Top Stories

Costa Rica 2, USMNT 0: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with the positives and just get that out of the way. Graham Zusi looked solid at right back. Michael Bradley had a good game in the central midfield. Jorge Villafana made some plays at left back.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can discuss what really happened in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s loss to Costa Rica.

There wasn’t much that went right for the U.S. on Friday night. The defense? Shambolic. The attack? Nonexistent. The overall performance? Spineless and inexcusable.

A number of things went wrong on Friday and there’s plenty of blame to go around. There was no one player or one incident responsible for what proved to be a big-time Costa Rica win. Rather, it was a bad team performance, and the team got what they deserved.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what went down on Friday night:


We had yet to really see Christian Pulisic struggle on the international level. We hadn’t seen signs of frustration or anger. Thus far, Pulisic’s talent generally took care of everything, and the USMNT has benefited.

Pulisic struggled on Friday, and he did show signs of frustration throughout the loss, and Costa Rica deserved all the credit.

Starting Pulisic on the wing gave him a very distinct role. He was meant to stretch the Costa Rica line and create one-on-one havoc. The problem was he rarely got one-on-one. He was routinely doubled by Francisco Calvo and Bryan Oviedo, who suffocated him each and every time he touched the ball. There was a moment where he wiggled his way free down the sideline before being hacked down by David Guzman, but Pulisic was largely checked even before he received the ball.

There will be moments where this will happen, especially if Pulisic is out wide. It’s a role different than the one he plays in at Dortmund, whose 4-3-3 allows him more space than the USMNT’s 4-4-2.

When Pulisic is checked, it’s up to his team to step up and exploit the extra eyes fixed on him. They didn’t, and it was easy to see signs of frustration as the match wore on.


Everyone knew playing in the New York/New Jersey area was a risk and, as the “Vamos Ticos” chants rang down, that risk seemed real. Despite what seemed to be a pro-USMNT crowd, Costa Rica was well represented, and when Los Ticos went in front, they were heard.

But make no mistake: Costa Rica did not win because they had a vocal crowd. The crowd didn’t make Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream’s partnership fail. The crowd didn’t take the USMNT attack out of the game. The crowd didn’t put Costa Rica’s two shots into the back of the net.

Now, was it a bad look? Sure. U.S. Soccer felt confidence playing in the area, and for the first 30 minutes or so that confidence was rewarded. It felt like a home game until suddenly it felt like it didn’t.

Venues will always be debated for U.S. Soccer. Even the hallowed ground of Columbus is now at risk following last year’s loss to Mexico in November. Going forward, U.S. Soccer will have to make better venue decisions for big games, and we might not see the New York area in play for quite some time.


For as much talk as there is about formations and tactics, the game of soccer generally comes down to individual players making individual plays in individual moments. Sometimes, you just need a ball to bounce your way, and Costa Rica got those bounces on Friday night.

That’s why Costa Rica won. They won because they took their individual moments and the USMNT didn’t. It’s as simple as that. Still, the USMNT could have been better arranged to create and prevent those individual moments.

Arena’s team selection wasn’t the sole reason the USMNT lost, but it certainly didn’t help. Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream were not a good central duo. The flat two-man midfield was largely outnumbered. Christian Pulisic was wasted on the wing. Tactically and formationally, the USMNT simply wasn’t set up in the best way to beat Costa Rica on the day.

Arena himself admitted the USMNT was outplayed and outcoached after the match, and it was a combination of both of those factors that led to the loss.


The Costa Rica backline is always one of the top units in CONCACAF. The three-man wall has shut down many a team. Ask Italy. Ask England. Ask Uruguay.

Friday wasn’t the first time the USMNT fell victim to the Costa Rica defense. It wasn’t even the first time this year. But they did fall victim in a match where the Ticos defenders were dominant.

Bobby Wood’s passing touch was frequently exposed as he wasn’t given the time and space to turn. Jozy Altidore was largely left out to dry with the midfield pinned too deep to play any meaningful ball forward. Christian Pulisic was strangled out wide. Did Fabian Johnson even play?

With little connection between the Michael Bradley and Darlignton Nagbe midfield and the USMNT attack, there was little to no life up top. That disconnection produced one good look, one which produced a spectacular Navas save.

It was a disjointed USMNT performance from back to front, and, because of it, the USMNT attack was held silent for the first time in quite awhile.


The central defense was a major question mark entering Friday’s match. It remains a question mark heading towards Tuesday.

Geoff Cameron’s partnership with Tim Ream didn’t work. Both players were far from good individually and the two were brutal to watch as a team. The spacing was terrible and the individual mistakes were costly. It wasn’t hard to see.

Arena will receive flack for not playing Omar Gonzalez or Matt Besler, but anyone would have expected better than what we saw on Friday. Cameron, the USMNT’s most consistent center back, had his first stinker in quite awhile. Ream, riding solid Fulham form, made some frustrating mistakes before settling down a bit in the second half. Of the two, Ream probably had the better game, and he was the one beaten on the goal. That says a lot about how poor things were.

The question is where we go from here. Does Arena ride with a three-at-the-back set on Tuesday due to the personnel involved? Does he bring Gonzalez and/or Besler into the mix?

It remains to be seen, but it’s pretty safe to say we won’t be seeing the Cameron/Ream partnership again any time soon.


  1. only caught part of the game live, but just watched a replay:

    can we have zusi play against costa rica every game? the gold cup final and the game on friday were, by far, his best games. he may be actually improving.

    arena is to blame for this humiliation—and, to be fair, he took responsibility, which is a refreshing change from the last manager.

    in my opinion, cameron and ream are far too experienced to not correct simple mistakes like leaving too much space between them over two halves; that was a tactical direction, plain and simple, probably due to playing less-than-ideal defenders on both wings.

    not sure if bradley was supposed to drop back and cover the runners (if so, he completely ignored it), or if arena just thought it was worth the risk (i really hope not).

    of course, the simplest solution would be to put fabian at fullback (replace either villafaƱa or zusi) so you have a reliable defender on at least one wing, and because fabian’s better—attacking and defending—in the fullback role anyway.

  2. There were 3 main weaknesses – the 2 central defenders played too far apart plus the goalie was out of position, Jozi is almost a total waste and thus the US plays with 10 men and the coach did not correct these major problems at half-time!! Then there were 2 smaller problems – FJ had a terrible day and too many and very bad passes (turn-overs) were made which weakened both the US offense and defense. Fix most of these US issues/problems and hopefully we get a victory versus Honduras on Tuesday.

  3. After watching the match in person and again on tape – I pin the loss squarely on the understanding between Ream and Cameron. Read: there wasn’t one. The acres of space between them – it was like comedy.

    And to me that is a pure coaching failure. Arena was fielding an attack back line – which I like. But in reality it’s the same old thing – we’re no better than CR right now. Nothing to be ashamed of. This was a team that should’ve been in the semis ’14 WC. Concacaf is vastly underrated.

    But you can pay the price when you play an attack-minded back line.

    On to Honduras!

  4. That is complete BS re the crowd. I was there. If we can’t hold a US soccer match in the NYC area, when will we?

    Last I checked if the US scores first – the Tico fans are silence.

    It was a risk worth taking staging the match there. That was at least a 65/35 pro US crowd. When the US goes behind 1 nil, did we think the 4k Ticos in attendance were gonna go silent?

    Conversely the US crowd virtually dominated until nil-2.

    You are doing a disservice to American football by pretending it was anything but a heavily American crowd.

  5. To your point about what didn’t work, I disagree on the breakdown in a big way…the execution after getting through midfield was terrible, and getting through midfield happened plenty even with the scrambling recovery D required by Nagbe (check out his work in that department) Bradley Villafana and Zusi. Wood and Altidore both with nothing up top (Wood’s struggles already noted, where attacks went to die Friday) and not together; they did not combine. Once the US fell behind, of course it becomes more difficult against CR, all teams in the world know that, which is why Ream starting so shaky, again, is a bummer, and Cameron’s play so disappointing. Yes, Arena and the staff deserve the responsibility for the team on the field! hopefully the guys who are relied upon to get things done rise and do so in Estadio Olimpico on Tuesday. It’s still all right there, qualifying for the World Cup, for this team to take, wherever the guys who play are based!!

    • Beachbum,

      I watched the first half from a restaurant with the wife and kids so I’ll defer to your breakdown. For me put Pulisic in the middle where you can’t use the sideline as an extra defender and where he can work with either striker on quick combinations. I think Nagbe is at least partially to blame for the striker ineffectiveness, he over dribbles and his forwards (all Summer not just last night) are stuck trying to hold their runs or just standing around waiting for the ball to go somewhere else (I know a lot of people disagree with me, but I’ve seen more and more come around to this opinion after Friday). I’d be ok with Nagbe and Bradley in deep positions with CP in front of them and one lone striker. With this roster though I’m not sure who plays on the wings so I think we might see Bedoya next to Bradley and Nagbe on a wing. I don’t see Fabian going another 60 to 90 minutes on his current fitness level or form.

    • My buddy Beachbum hitting the nail on the head.. such a breakdown throughout the midfield.
      The spacing never was right, too many gaps and no movement off the ball after the first 20 minutes. It was as if CR settled in and figured us out quickly & we had no answers or adjustments.
      I give MB credit, he worked hard the full 90 & seems to be back on an upswing after some questionable games, and with some of Nagbes recoveries and probing runs we still had no answers.
      This 442 is just not working for some reason..whether it’s the personnel or whatever, I think the last time we had a quality outing with our A team vs a quality opponent was at the Copa America – It feels like a team trying to put square pegs into round holes dude..
      I honestly think the way MB likes to start from so deep no matter the partner or formations, we need to be in a 433. CP is not Landon who could thrive in that wing spot in a 442.. He’s give us the most as a 433 wing or a 4231 either on the wing or the 10. That would allow him to also interchange w/ Nagbe etc. And even though Villafana wasn’t terrible, Fabian gives us so much more as a LB.
      I really wish we could nail down a box to box mid to go opposite of Nagbe in a 433- MB wants to be DDR playing so deep and picking his spots, and with FJ at LB and Yedlin/Zusi/Chandler… we could make it happen and cut down on these massive open spaces leaving us so exposed… ugghh I’m rambling…
      And like I said earlier, this team is missing the bite & urgency Jermaine Jones brought… big time..
      Always like hearing your thoughts Bum…

  6. johnny, again, I’m excusing none, just pointing out–calling out–the euro based players who are always evaluated higher by many (not just here) simply because of where they play, calling them out specifically in this game because they struggled so clearly and it’s interesting to note its abrupt contradiction of general thought, not noted anywhere else I can see. In an important Word Cup qualifier at home no less.

  7. and the CBs were euro based, as were both Wood and Pulisic. and if we’re playing Johnson as a midfielder, it’s to unleash him in attack. He never unleashed in that game

    • Beachbum, to a point you are right that the domestic based players were better, but as CMs Nagbe and Bradley are in charge of getting the wings and forwards involved. The two CMs were pushing the ball to CPs side despite the extra cover on that side, leaving FJ, Wood, and Zusi without the ball for long stretches. Are those three somewhat at fault for not getting into better spaces, certainly, but you can’t put all the blame on them. The major problem for the US on Friday was moving the ball quickly through the midfield to attacking players before CR could set the defense, that responsibility was on Nagbe, Bradley, and as he more often dropped underneath Wood, Altidore.

      There is plenty of blame to go around, but when a team loses that should always fall on the coaching staff, we seemed to be expecting the passive absorb pressure ten men behind the ball attack CR used in the GC, what we got was the high pressure not allow anytime on the ball we saw last fall in the away match. I applaud Arena for acknowledging he was out coached in the press conference, but he also seemed to indicate that at the halftime interview and made little outward adjustments to combat that. Arena seemed to make no adjustments either tactically or with subs until it was much too late. We started out in a poor formation and only made it worse by moving players to positions they don’t play to accommodate subs.
      The good news is we have a chance to prove ourselves against Honduras on Monday and with 3 pts forget about the troubles of Friday.

  8. agree on MLS and the breaks Johnny

    agree Ream played ok and recovered nicely after starting terribly and super shaky like he always seems to do.

    BrianK, do you disagree about the euro players? they were terrible, and Villafana, while full of flaws, was not the problem…the CBs and the offense, or lack thereof, was

  9. It’s frustrating to me to see guys like BolaƱos, Waston who I see play week in and week out at Whitecaps games playing at a higher level when they play for CRC. This shows the passion they bring and how they step up their games when they play WC Qualy’s. Our guys used to be like that. The whole was much better than the sum of the parts.

  10. Ream was at least dominant in the air. Bad spacing aside (which is hard to push aside given how bad it the pairing ended up) he had some good moments in the game.

    Someone tell Bruce ‘Throw ALL the Forwards On’ isn’t a viable tactic.

    • Thank you. Ream played a decent match. He was hung out to dry on the goal. Villafana’s terrible ball forward to start the sequence. Ream had no help from Villafana or Cameron,…and Howard’s effort was pathetic. He was dominat in the air.

      • Meh. Certainly there is plenty of blame to be apportioned all across the backline, including Howard. However, these excuses for Ream really don’t amount to much more than…. excuses. A veteran CB distinguishes himself by ensuring excellent organization/spacing from start to finish. And when this breaks down, he snuffs out the danger, regardless of who created the problem. Ream (and Cameron) failed badly in these duties. Hard for me to say any of our defenders had a “decent” performance when we gave up two critical goals to a mediocre striker at home.

  11. One thing I strongly disagree with in this article is the statement that ” the game of soccer generally comes down to individual players making individual plays in individual moments.” Maybe this is meant differently than it reads, but soccer is very much a team game and a team that plays well is greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe the biggest difference in this game IMO was that CR played like a cohesive team while the US played like a collection of often disjointed individuals. As for the US attack, not nearly enough off the ball movement and the passing was too slow too often.The only exceptions were long passes trying to get behind the CR defense, but their defenders are very quick and rarely beaten for pace. Very rarely did the US even attempt quick one touch passing combinations.

  12. looked like Nagbe, Bradley, Villafana and Zusi all did great jobs on recovery D, saved bacon numerous times after poor releases by both CBs and lost possessions by Wood which was most of the time he touched the ball in the first half; bummer was the 2 successful turns he had in his hold up play led to chances so the hole was there in the CR defense but his first touch let him down and the team big time last repeatedly. CR wasn’t going to let Pulisic beat them, other teams won’t either, BUT the holes in the D opened up for others by that CR strategy were not capitalized on by Wood or Jozy or anyone. I’m not excusing any players whether domestic or euro, just pointing out the lack of quality those euro based players brought last night considering they are supposed to bring that from their euro based employment

    • Ugghh I hate the new comment section and how you can’t tell who is replying to what comment.

      I thought Bradley was one of the better players for the US, Nagbe showed a few flashes but for me didn’t really look to link the forwards with Bradley enough, Zusi was fine one or two mistakes but nothing major, Villafana I didn’t think was very good, but I was watching the first half while eating out with the family. Besler must be a terrible practice player because he has done well in his appearances for the Nats including this summer but keeps getting passed over by Arena, JK, and even for a time at SKC.

  13. USMNT is regressing, year after year…a glorified physical ed coach doesn’t help. Pulisic is the only bright light, everyone else is third rate…good news is, they compete in Concacaf, which is a joke of a qualifier…and in Concacaf, USMNT is the third best team…pathetic…

  14. and again, when the CONCACAF opponent hacks our best players, where is our response? two yellow cards for stupidity–Jozy and Clint both–would be better utilized hacking some opposing midfielder from behind and raking their ankles hard, like what they do from behind to us

    • This squad has lacked urgency and had no “bite” since Jermaine Jones has been out of the squad.
      I’m not saying he should regain a spot because of father time & injuries… but we do miss his intensity

  15. all of the euro based players, relied upon to add quality and raise the sum, struggled: Pulisic, Wood, Johnson, Ream and Cameron. Arena got it wrong this time and copped to it. Now it’s all or nothing vs. Honduras

    • To be fair none of our domestic based players looked very good either. Honestly looked like a Klinsmann game, tinkered lineup, no connection between the lines, no adjustments to the opponent, and subs brought on 15 minutes too late.

      • The lineup caused most of the problems, primarily playing BOTH Nagbe and Pulisic out of position (for the MNT) in order to play an out-of-form FabJo. Second mistake was the formation. Arena should have gone with three center backs, employing Gonzo as the central back to counter the width of Costa Rica.

  16. Tim Howard has to be mentioned. Both goals should have been prevented/saved. Hamid makes those saves easily, as does Horvath.

    Goalies changed the game today for sure.

    • I’m with you on this. Not that the entirety of the loss is on Howards shoulders, but he did seem out of position on both goals. I thought the same thing about Hamid. Why not him at this point? Our keeper reputation is based on history, mostly. Look at the two on Friday…one plays for Real Madrid, the other, the Colorado Rapids. One was spectacular, the other has been on the downside of a fantastic career for a couple years now.


Leave a Comment