COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sixty seconds in, Costa Rica was celebrating and the U.S. World Cup campaign was spinning out of control.
Sergiño Dest and Tim Weah, two young Americans unscarred by the failure of four years ago, got them back on track.
Shoelaces untied, Dest curled an 18-yard, left-footed shot past Keylor Navas in the 25th minute. Weah's shot for the go-ahead goal deflected off the near post and then off backup goalkeeper Leonel Moreiera in the 66th, and the U.S. exhaled with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night that eased pressure as qualifying neared the halfway point.
“We can't lose again,” the 20-year-old Dest said. "We needed it really bad,”
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, one of nine new starters inserted following Sunday’s dismal 1-0 loss at Panama, made a costly headed clearance that led to Keysher Fuller’s goal 60 seconds in, the fastest goal conceded by the U.S. in 23 years.
Dest ended a streak of eight straight first halves without an American goal following a pass from Yunus Musah on the right flank after Weah had switched the ball from the opposite side. Dest cut toward the center and curled the ball just beyond Navas' outstretched right hand into the upper corner.
Navas left at halftime because of a strained adductor muscle
Weah, a 21-year-old son of Liberia President and former FIFA Player of the Year George Weah, joined the lineup about five minutes before kickoff after Paul Arriola injured his right groin during warmups.
“Everything was kind of a rush. I had to warm up, get ready quick,” Weah said.
With Matthew Hoppe on the touchline about to replace Weah, Weston McKennie passed to Dest, who dished to Weah. His 10-yard shot from an angle hit the post and ricocheted off a diving Moreira and in,
“It just so happened that the ball came out wide to Serge, and I saw the run,” Weah said. “I just hit it one time, and it happened to go in.”
Weah originally was credited with a goal, but it was changed to an own goal by Moreira.
"We’ll talk to FIFA about that," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.
Mexico leads with 14 points after a 2-0 win at El Salvador, and the U.S. has 11 after six of 14 matches going into its Nov. 12 meeting with El Tri at Cincinnati.
Canada has 10 after a 4-1 win over Panama, which has eight. The top three teams qualify for next year's World Cup, and the fourth-place team advances to a playoff.
Costa Rica (six), Jamaica and El Salvador (five each) and Honduras (three) trail.
Berhalter was criticized for resting many front-line players in Panama, wanting fresh legs against the Ticos. Teams that win their home games usually qualify.
Steffen, a former Columbus keeper getting his first start in qualifying over Matt Turner, got in trouble when he headed a clearance over Dest in the first minute.
Bryan Ruiz kept the ball in with a backheel pass to Ronald Mattarita, who dribbled down the side and crossed. Just outside the 6-yard box, Fuller volleyed with his right foot, and the ball went in on two bounces inside the far post for his second international goal.
“I felt like the guy was in front of me and I thought he was offside,” Steffen said.
Fuller scored the fastest goal against the U.S. since the Netherlands’ Ronald de Boer on Feb. 21, 1998.
“My initial thought was: `Here we go. We got to respond,'” Berhalter said. “We challenged the guys to respond after a poor performance in Panama and this was going to be another element that we needed to respond to. It was early enough in the game that if we stayed calm and stuck to the game plan, I thought we'd be OK.”
Before a pro-American crowd of 20,165 at the first international match in $300 million-plus Lower.com Field, Costa Rica's starting lineup averaged more than 30 years old. Ticos coach Luis Fernando Suárez retained nine starters from Sunday’s 2-1 win at El Salvador.
Berhalter fielded the youngest U.S. qualifying lineup at an average of 22 years, 229 days. He retained only 18-year-old Musah and Weah from Sunday’s starters and gave 21-year-old defender Chris Richards his first competitive start.
Hoppe, 20, entered in the 73rd and 19-year-old Gianluca Busio five minutes later. They joined Steffen and Richards to increase U.S. qualifying debuts to 25 in this cycle, trailing only 1998 (29), and 2006 and 2010 (26 each).
Sprightly muscles overcame the inexperience.
“All of World Cup qualifying is difficult. All of World Cup qualifying is challenging, and sometimes I feel like people forgot that," Berhalter said. “People think it's a cakewalk, and we're going to play the youngest team in the history of U.S. soccer in a game and we're just going to breeze through these games. It's not realistic."
Notes: Héctor Moreno scored in the 30th minute and Raúl Jiménez got his 28th international goal in the third minute of second half stoppage time at San Salvador. ... After After Rolando Blackburn put the visitors ahead in the fifth minute at Toronto, Amir Murillo's own goal tied the score in the 28th. Alphonso Davies scored in the 66th, Tajon Buchanan in the 71st and Jonathan David in the 78th, his sixth goal in qualifying. ... Jamaica won 2-0 as Kemar Roofe got his first international goal in the 38th minute and Oniel Fisher scored in the 79th at San Pedro Sula.
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