World Cup qualifying is a day trip not an odyssey. And the 14-game CONCACAF tournament hasn’t even reached the halfway point yet.
But it’s never too early to draw some conclusions about the American team, which went from an early deficit to carrom across the goal line from a backup keeper in a one-shot game to beat Costa Rica 2-1 on Wednesday. returned.
At 3-1-2 and with 11 points, good for second place after the first two qualifying windows, the US are comfortably on track to win a spot at next year’s World Cup in Qatar. But like most Odysseys, there are challenges ahead:
• Coach Greg Berhalter’s reliance on young, talented but inexperienced players will undoubtedly pay off in the future, but currently it has proved to be a liability against knowledgeable, experienced teams like Panama and Costa Rica. Next is Mexico, CONCACAF’s most knowledgeable, most experienced team.
• Finishing remains a problem without the injured Christian Pulisic. America have had some trouble getting the ball into the attacking third, but lack the final pass to convert those opportunities into goals.
• Berhalter’s decision to build depth by giving 25 players qualifying debuts in the first six matches will make a difference next year, when the US ends the tournament with road games seven days apart in Costa Rica and Mexico, two places it has never won. a qualifier.
Meanwhile, America remains a team in progress, still far from where it needs to be.
“The main goal is to qualify for the World Cup and we are not there yet,” said Berhalter. “We can’t rest as long as we are there, and then when we get there, how can we still win the World Cup.
“We were going into what a lot of people were going to get their first experience with. And that was more part of the package for us. We understand what we’re going through.”
America made its youngest lineup debut in the qualifiers on Wednesday, with an average age of just under 23. Costa Rica’s 11 starters had an average age of over eight years; Seven of them were in the 2018 World Cup squad.
This made the game a matchup of men against boys, and Costa Rica needed just 65 seconds to keep the young Americans on their heels, with Keysher Fuller redirecting a long cross from Ronald Matarita through traffic and Zack Stephens, the previous goalkeeper, was a surprising starter. Matt Turner’s.
Sergio Dest pulled back quickly this month, capping the game’s best sustained period by America with a goal at 25.th Minute. After taking a short pass from Younis Musa on the right edge of the 18-yard box, Dest dribbled to his left to make room, then flew a left-footed shot into the top left corner.
The goal that Deste opened his boot to was the first in the opening half of nine games for the US
If the youth of the Americans was a liability in the first half, it was a force in the second, when aging Costa Ricans grew weary. But perhaps the biggest change at halftime was the departure of Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas with a groin injury.
Both factors – Costa Rica’s slackness and Navas’ absence – would have contributed to the decisive goal, which was credited to Lionel Moreira, Navas’ replacement, who intercepted the first shot but not the second, with Tim Weah’s attempt at post trickling. Along the front and the far side of the target.
Weh, a late addition to the starting lineup after an injury to Paul Arriola in the warm-up, got the ball deep over at Costa Rica’s end after Fuller’s poor first touch. Moreira played a completely wrong shot from Weh’s right foot, which hit him in the side, bounced off the post and rolled for his own goal.
It wasn’t pretty but it was effective, which was good enough for Berhalter.
He said, ‘Qualifying the World Cup is difficult. “Sometimes I feel like people have forgotten it. People think it’s a cakewalk. We’re going to play the youngest team in the history of US soccer and we’re going to wind through these games.
“It’s not realistic. What I would say is that boys fight and guys give everything. That’s all you can ask for.”