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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – The United States put itself in a deep hole in World Cup qualifying with one of its worst performances in decades.
Taking advantage of defensive mistakes, Costa Rica routed the U.S. 4-0 Tuesday night to drop the Americans to 0-2 for the first time in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.
"A very, very bitter moment for us. There's no doubt about it," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "We didn't imagine going into the hexagonal with two defeats right at the beginning."
Johan Venegas scored in the 43rd minute, Cristian Bolanos doubled the lead in the 69th and second-half substitute Joel Campbell beat beleaguered goalkeeper Brad Guzan in the 74th and 77th minutes in the worst margin of defeat for the U.S. in a qualifier since a 5-1 defeat at Mexico in November 1980.
It was the biggest losing shutout margin in a qualifier since the U.S. fell 6-0 at Mexico in 1957.
Combined with Friday's 2-1 loss to Mexico at Columbus, Ohio, the U.S. finds itself in a quick deficit in the hexagonal, which resumes in March.
"I'm very disappointed, obviously," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. "There's obviously some concern. Mexico qualified with 12 points. There's a lot of points left on the board — 24 to be exact."
Ticos fans sounded air horns at the end of a match that reignited questioning of Klinsmann's tactics. The U.S. dropped to 0-9-1 in qualifiers at Costa Rica.
Klinsmann is still confident he's the right person to lead the team, but understands the scrutiny.
"When you lose two games and obviously two World Cup qualifiers right after each other, there will be a lot of comments," he said.
The Americans, who had had not lost a home qualifier in 15 years before last week, figure they will win their four remaining home games and pick up points on the road.
The top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia, and the No. 4 finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's fifth-place nation.
"There's going to need to be some urgency," U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. "We're going to have to look collectively real hard in the mirror at ourselves and understand it's not been a good start but the reality of this hexagonal format is that nothing is lost yet, not even close. So anybody who thinks that is sorely mistaken."
Central defenders John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez, and right back Timmy Chandler had particularly poor games. Brooks and Omar Gonzalez started in the center of the back line. Geoff Cameron, who usually starts alongside Brooks, missed both qualifiers this month after hyperextending a knee during Stoke's Premier League match against Hull on Oct. 22.
Costa Rica, which won its opener 2-0 at Trinidad and Tobago, went ahead after a Brooks giveaway. Randall Azofeifa took a short pass from Jose Salvatierra in the center circle and played a long ball into the corner, where Bolanos ran it down on its third bounce. Gonzalez was slow to close on Bolanos, who crossed for Venegas just outside the 6-yard box. Bolanos beat Brooks to the ball and sent a header across Guzan for his seventh goal in 30 international appearances.
Bolanos scored after a turnover by 18-year-old midfielder Christian Pulisic near midfield. Salvatierra sent a pass down the flank to Venagas, and his cross found Bolanos in front, with Chandler a step late.
Ronald Matarrita created the final two goals by Campbell. On the last goal, Campbell took the ball over Brooks' right foot as the American defender stabbed to make a play to no avail. He was a step behind all night on the slick, chunked-up turf.
"I said to the team that it won't be the last 4-nil defeat in their career," Klinsmann said. "We'll get here some lessons but definitely it's a bitter moment because we wanted to do far, far better than what we did."
There was some whistling during "The Star-Spangled Banner" from the capacity crowd of about 35,000 in Estadio Nacional, where the field is surrounded by an athletics track and crowd noise dissipates — even from a band in the second deck. The venue appears less intimidating to visitors than old Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, where fans were directly behind the benches.
Chandler at right back and midfielder Jermaine Jones are suspended for the next qualifier, at home on March 24 against Honduras, because of yellow-card accumulation. Both were cautioned by Mexican referee for fouls against Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz, Chandler in the 11th minute and Jones in the 37th.
Costa Rica, a 2014 World Cup quarterfinalist, nearly went ahead in the 14th minute when Bolanos centered for Ruiz, who chested the ball and sent an overhead kick directly into Guzan's face. And in the 57th, Venegas beat Chandler to a punt by Navas and had a clear shot on Guzan, who made a leg save.
While Bolanos repeatedly sliced diagonal long balls through the midfield, the U.S. rarely threatened. Pulisic took a pass from Jones in the 20th, dribbled to the end line and crossed, but Bobby Wood couldn't get to the ball before goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Wood slid the ball behind Navas in the 41st, but the U.S. didn't have anyone in front.
Notes: Honduras (2-0) beat visiting Trinidad and Tobago 3-1 on goals by Romell Quioto in the 16th, Emilio Izaguirre in the 19th and Eddie Hernandez in the 80th. Carlyle Mitchell scored in the 51st for the Soca Warriors (0-2). ... Mexico played to a 0-0 draw at Panama.