Alvaro Saborio scored 79 seconds in, the second-fastest goal against the United States in a World Cup qualifier, and Costa Rica coasted to a 3-1 victory Wednesday night.
Celso Borges added a goal in the 13th minute, and Pablo Herrera sealed the victory for 41st-ranked Costa Rica when he made it 3-0 in the 69th.
Landon Donovan converted a penalty kick in the second minute of second-half stoppage time, tying Brian McBride's American record of 10 goals in qualifying.
The Ticos shredded the defense of the region's top-ranked team on the artificial turf of Saprissa Stadium, and the United States stumbled for the second straight time in Central America.
"We were under pressure from the start and we didn't control the game. They took advantage," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "I just dont think we were good enough."
It was a tough start to a difficult three-match stretch of qualifying for the No. 14 Americans, who dropped to 0-7-1 in qualifying at Costa Rica, including 0-7 at San Jose, where they've been outscored 16-5. Donovan's goal was the first for the Americans in Costa Rica since Earnie Stewart's in 2000.
The Americans now come home to Chicago, where on Saturday they'll host Honduras, the last team to beat them in a qualifier on U.S. soil. The United States is 15-0-1 at home since the 3-2 defeat at Washington's RFK Stadium in September 2001. Then, on Aug. 12, the Americans play at Mexico, where they are 0-22-1.
The U.S. will be missing midfielder Michael Bradley on Saturday after he picked up a yellow card in the 54th minute, earning a one-game suspension.
Still, the United States remains in good position to qualify for its sixth straight World Cup as long as it wins its remaining home matches, which include games against El Salvador (Sept. 5 at Sandy, Utah) and Costa Rica (Oct. 14 at Washington).
Costa Rica (3-1) leapfrogged into first place in the six-team regional finals of North and Central America and the Caribbean with nine points, two ahead of the United States (2-1-1).
Honduras (1-1-1) has four points, followed by Mexico (1-2) with three, and El Salvador (0-1-2) and Trinidad and Tobago (0-1-2) with two points each. The top three nations qualify for next year's World Cup in South Africa, and the No. 4 team meets the fifth-place team from South America in a playoff for another berth.
Saborio got the first goal when he cut around Jose Francisco Torres, faked past Pablo Mastroeni and then easily beat an onrushing Bradley and DaMarcus Beasley to curl a 20-yard, left-footed shot over goalkeeper Tim Howard. The only earlier goal against the United States in a qualifier was by Mexico's Carlos Hermosillo in the first minute of a 2-2 tie at Foxborough, Mass., in April 1997.
"Our reactions were a little bit slow," Bradley said.
Esteban Sirias created the second goal when he went down the left flank, avoided a tackle by Mastroeni and crossed to Borges, who had a wide-open shot from 11 yards.
Saborio's bounding header was stopped by a lunging Howard in the 18th, and an unmarked Saborio sailed a shot over the crossbar in the 38th. In the 37th, Oguchi Onyewu nearly headed the ball past Howard in a clearance attempt.
Herrera entered in the 56th and scored 13 minutes later when he got around Bradley and beat Howard to the near post from about 15 yards as U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra was slow to come out and close him down.
In March, the U.S. fell behind by two goals before rallying for a 2-2 tie at El Salvador. This time, before a screaming red-clad crowd backing the Ticos, the U.S. had to scramble because of injuries.
With Steve Cherundolo and Frank Hejduk sidelined, the U.S. started Marvell Wynne Jr. _ son of the former major league baseball player _ at right back.
Beasley made his second straight start at left back but showed rust. He sat on the bench for much of the season at Glasgow Rangers, and was playing his first competitive match since April 8.
Brian Ching was out with a hamstring injury and Jozy Altidore started at forward with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. While Altidore scored all three goals in the 3-0 qualifying win over Trinidad on April 1, that was his last match. He didn't get into a game with Xerez of Spain's second division, and was coming off toe surgery.