SAN JOSE, Costa Rica ( Associated Press) – The men of the United States are returning to the World Cup after the trauma of missing the 2018 tournament. last night of qualifying.
Juan Pablo Vargas came behind Walker Zimmerman and pushed Brandon Aguilera’s corner kick past goalkeeper Zack Steffen in the 51st minute, and Anthony Contreras hit a cross from a scramble in the 59th after Steffen could not hold a free kick.
A sold-out crowd of about 35,000 in the National Stadium came to life, but the Americans’ 5-1 game of Panama at home last weekend gave them a big goal-difference margin over Costa Rica. This meant that the US only had to avoid losing by six goals or more to claim an automatic place by finishing among the top three nations in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
American players on the bench walked onto the field with the final whistle and exchanged handshakes and hugs with their teammates who ended the match while home fans cheered the Ticos.
“It’s a proud moment for the team, proud moment for American football,” said American coach Gregg Berhalter. “The team is ecstatic.”
Canada, who on Sunday won their first World Cup trip since 1986 with a victory, finished first with 28 points after a 1-0 defeat to Panama, ahead of Mexico on goal difference. El Tri moved ahead of the USA and clinched its eighth consecutive World Cup, while the USA finished third with 25 points and a plus-11 goal difference.
Costa Rica was fourth with 25 points and plus-five, and the Ticos will face Oceanian champions New Zealand in a one-game playoff game in June for a spot in the 32-nation field.
While the U.S. won six of seven home games with one draw, it ended with one win, three defeats and three draws on the road. The Americans have never won a qualifying match in Costa Rica, losing 10 and drawing two.
At Friday’s draw, the USA will find out which three nations they will face in the group stage, which starts on November 21 at a tournament that has been moved back five months to avoid summer desert heat. A growing and increasingly hypercritical fan base hopes to attract Christian Pulisic & Co. for the first time since 2002 to reach the quarterfinals.
“This group can do damage,” Berhalter said.
Ticos coach Luis Fernando Suárez did not start with six starters from Sunday’s win in El Salvador, who carried yellow cards and did not want to risk a suspension for a play-off.
The innings took place on the 1,267th day after a shocking 2-1 defeat in Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ series of seven consecutive World Cup matches. Pulisic was in tears after the defeat, which led to a fluctuation at the American Football Federation and Berhalter’s appointment in December 2018 as the team’s fourth coach in 25 months.
The U.S. has used 114 new players since its elimination, including 88 under Berhalter. Thirty-eight players took the field during the 14 heats, plus six others were on grids without coming in.
Berhalter has contests in June and September to help evaluate a pool of maybe four dozen and choose what is currently a roster limited to 23.
A qualifying tournament that started with fireworks above the field during the opening minutes at San Salvador, El Salvador, on September 2, ended with more fireworks.
The U.S. traveled 25,042 miles on charters – just over 24,901 around the world – plus players had up to five transatlantic trips back and forth, with Tyler Adams in Germany and Antonee Robinson making the maximum in England. Games are at 3 degrees (minus-16 Celsius) in St. Paul, Minnesota, and played 85 degrees (29 Celsiush) in Austin, Texas.
Not since Paul Caligiuri’s stunning goal on Trinidad before the 1990 tournament clinched the USA in his final game. The Americans secured themselves a spot with three games left for 2006, two for 2014 and one game for 1998, 2002 and 2010. All of those games were with wins.
Qualification will not be so difficult for the 2026 World Cup, which expands to 48 nations. The US, Mexico and Canada are co-hosts, and all three are expected to get automatic accommodations.
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