SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — The United States is in danger of becoming the fourth team to start 0-2 in the final round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying since the hexagonal format was adopted ahead of the 1998 tournament.
The Americans traveled to Central America on Sunday, two days after a 2-1 loss to Mexico in Columbus, Ohio — the Americans’ first home loss in qualifying since 2001. They are 0-8-1 in qualifiers at Costa Rica — losing their last eight in a row.
“It’s just part of the qualifying process, the whole kind of long road obviously over 10 games,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after Friday’s match. “And so it’s not a problem, but it’s obviously it’s disappointing.”
All three hosts lost Friday, the first time that happened in the hexagonal since Sept. 1, 2001, when the U.S. was defeated 3-2 by Honduras at Washington’s RFK Stadium. But there is plenty of time to rebound.
The top three teams in the North and Central American and Caribbean finals advance to the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place nation meets Asia’s No. 5 finisher in a playoff for another berth.
Canada (1997) and Trinidad and Tobago (2001) both started 0-2 and failed to qualify, but the Soca Warriors overcame losses to the U.S. and Guatemala in 2005 to finish fourth, then beat Bahrain in a playoff to reach the 2006 tournament in Germany.
The U.S. Soccer Federation noted the average points needed to qualify from the hex has been 15.6, which means the U.S. would need four points on the road if form holds and it wins four remaining home matches. The U.S. earned six points on the road in the final round of qualifying for the 1998 tournament, five for 2002 and seven in each of the last three cycles.
“We have to look forward, pick ourselves up,” forward Jozy Altidore said.
The U.S. left behind goalkeeper Tim Howard, who departed the opener in the 40th minute after injuring the adductor muscle in his right leg. After a refueling stop in West Palm Beach, Florida, the team arrived at its hotel in San Jose at 7:30 p.m., following an afternoon storm.
Costa Rica has become the perennial No. 3 team in the region behind Mexico and the U.S., and Los Ticos reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup before losing to the Netherlands on penalty kicks.
In the Americans’ first qualifying match at Costa Rica, John Kerr scored in the 44th minute off Jeff Hooker’s cross after Mike Windischmann long pass down a flank, to gain a 1-1 draw on May 26, 1985, at Estadio Alejandro Moreira in Alajuela, about 13 miles from San Jose. Oscar Ramirez had put the hosts ahead about one minute earlier after Arnie Mausser misplayed a cross.
The U.S. then lost seven consecutive qualifiers by a combined 16-5 at San Jose’s Estadio Saprissa, where fans were right behind the benches and some threw bags of urine at the visitors.
The site shifted in 2013 to Estadio Nacional, which opened two years earlier and has an athletics track around the field. The result was similar, with the Americans giving up goals to Johnny Acosta and Celso Borges in the first nine minutes of a 3-1 loss that ended their team-record winning streak at 12 games, three shy of Spain’s world mark. American midfielder Michael Bradley, originally in the starting lineup, limped off the field during warmups after spraining his left ankle and was on crutches at the bench during the match.
“The message is very simple,” Klinsmann said after the loss. “We’ve got to do down there and get a result, which we will do.”