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US in peril as Urena double delivers for Costa Rica

Harrison, United States | AFP | Costa Rica striker Marco Urena scored twice to leave the United States’ World Cup qualification hopes in jeopardy here Friday as the 2014 quarter-finalists grabbed a 2-0 away victory.

San Jose Earthquakes forward Urena exposed slack defending in the US back four in the 30th minute to fire Costa Rica ahead at the Red Bull Arena.

Urena then pounced on another sloppy piece of US defending eight minutes from time to complete a miserable night for the hosts.

It was Costa Rica’s first win in a World Cup qualifying game on US soil since 1985.

The defeat — the first in a competitive fixture since coach Bruce Arena took over last year — leaves the US campaign to reach the 2018 finals in Russia in the balance.

The Americans are now six points adrift of leaders Mexico and Costa Rica, who both have 14 points and look certain to lock up the top two automatic qualifying spots.

But the US now face a battle for the third automatic place, with Panama one point behind and Honduras favoured to go level with the Americans later Friday if they beat Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain.

The result leaves the US with little margin for error as they face a tricky away trip to Honduras next Tuesday before games against Panama and Trinidad next month.

Arena must now somehow turnaround his team’s display for next week’s clash with Honduras.

“We’ll take a day to reflect on this and come up with a plan,” Arena said. “But clearly walking away without any points tonight is very disappointing.

“We’ll move on. This is how you deal in competition sports. You don’t win every game.

“Tonight was not our night. We didn’t play well, but we still have three games left in the competition. We’re still in position to qualify for the World Cup.”

Warning signs came early on Friday when Urena seized on a wobble by US defender Tim Ream to steal in.

That early scare was a foretaste of things to come for the American defence, which never looked completely comfortable in the opening 45 minutes.

At the other end the US carved out a series of promising chances, with Christian Pulisic at the heart of the action.

Costa Rica’s David Guzman, who had escaped sanction for an ugly challenge on Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe, was booked for tripping Pulisic in the 13th minute as the youngster darted forward.

The Americans looked to have genuine claims for a penalty in the 24th minute when Kendall Waston appeared to haul down Jozy Altidore but referee John Pitti waved away the appeals.

Six minutes later disaster struck for the US. A poor clearing kick from goalkeeper Tim Howard was headed back towards the US territory and with Ream and Geoff Cameron out of position, Urena burst through the middle.

The San Jose Earthquakes striker turned Ream inside out before angling a low shot across Howard into the far corner to make it 1-0.

As tension mounted in the second half Costa Rica’s Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas twice pulled off superb saves from Pulisic and Altidore to preserve the visitors lead.

With the US pushing forward Urena then grabbed his second, punishing another blunder to stroke home his finish past Howard.

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