Defensive lapses doom U.S. in Costa Rica as Klinsmann's future left in doubt
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- The United States responded to last week's loss to Mexico by imploding against Costa Rica in Friday's World Cup qualifier at Estadio Nacional, getting dismantled 4-0 by the Ticos on goals by Johan Venegas, Christian Bolanos and Joel Campbell's second-half brace. Here are three quick thoughts on the match.
1. Costa Rica thumps U.S. at home yet again
After Friday's defeat to El Tri in Columbus, Ohio -- Mexico's first win in qualifying in the U.S. in more than four decades -- much of the talk in the lead-up to this match was about the opportunity the Americans had to make some history of their own. The Yanks had never won in Costa Rica, going 0-8-1 all-time, including eight straight losses in the country's capital city. Each of the past four matches between the teams resulted in a multiple-goal defeat for the visitors.
But while the U.S. started better than it did during its last visit to the Costa Rican capital three years ago, when it was down 2-0 before the game was 10 minutes old, the final result this time around was significantly worse. It didn't matter that coach Jurgen Klinsmann went with the same lineup and 4-4-2 formation that had the better of the play against Mexico in the second half in Columbus. The Ticos still dominated the match in every way. The Americans managed just one shot on target all night.
More damning was the fact that they didn't show the resolve that one would expect from a team with its back against the wall. Of all the losses in San Jose over the years, this one was far and away the worst.
2. Defensive errors doom U.S.
Just when it looked like the Americans might get to halftime with the game still scoreless, Venegas headed the hosts in front two minutes before the break. The frustrating thing from a U.S. point of view was that the wound was largely self-inflicted.
Jermaine Jones, a turnover machine all night, put center back John Brooks under pressure with a poor back-pass to begin the sequence. With Timmy Chandler caught upfield, Omar Gonzalez, Brooks' partner, gave too much space to Ticos attacker Bolanos, who was able to turn and pick out the too-loosely marked Venegas, who easily beat Brad Guzan from point-blank range.
That Venegas was Brooks' man only added insult to injury. The German-American also lost Mexico's Rafa Marquez in last week's Hex-opening loss to El Tri, and he looked shaky from the opening whistle, giving the ball away needlessly time and again.
The first goal was a psychological blow as much as anything, and it gave the Costa Ricans all the momentum heading into a second half in which they left no doubt about which team was the superior side. Bolanos ran by Chandler for the second. Another Brooks turnover gifted Campbell a breakaway that he coolly slotted past Guzan before the Sporting Lisbon star added a second moments later to complete the USA's truly embarrassing performance.
3. Was this Klinsmann's last game in charge?
The morning of Friday's loss to Mexico, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said he expected Klinsmann to remain in charge of the national team through at least the end of qualifying. But after the Americans started the Hex with two ugly losses for the first time in program history, Gulati will have to give serious consideration to letting the German coach go.
Klinsmann's lack of tactical acumen and odd lineup choices have confounded his players throughout his five-year tenure, but those players always seemed to bail their manager out by turning in a big performance when his back was against the wall. Not on this night.
This was arguably the worst defeat the Americans suffered under Klinsmann, and it turns March's home match against Honduras -- a match that Chandler and Jones will be unavailable for because of the yellow cards they picked up in San Jose -- into a must-win. Four months is a long time to dwell on a result like this one.
If Klinsmann is the wrong guy, and the evidence now is overwhelming, the salary left on his contract that runs until the end of 2018 can't be enough to save him. If Gulati is going to pull the trigger on the coach he spent five years luring before finally landing him in 2011, the time to do it is now.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.