Costa Rica beats United States in final match of CONCACAF WC qualifying

Costa Rica maintained its unbeaten record at home against the United States in World Cup qualifying with a 2-0 win at the Estadio Nacional in San Juan on Wednesday night.

Despite the result, the U.S. still finishes third in CONCACAF's Octagonal qualifying table behind first-placed Canada and second-placed Mexico, thus securing an automatic spot in Qatar at year's end. Costa Rica is in fourth, meaning it will play a one-off match against New Zealand in Qatar to determine which of those two teams make the finals.

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"It's amazing what this group of guys have been able to do over these last seven months," head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. "I've really seen the team grow and this is a great accomplishment. We are looking forward to the World Cup."

Berhalter was part of the U.S. team that reached the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup, where they lost to Germany. He was also part of their 2006 World Cup squad but did not play any games as they were knocked out in the group stage.

"I don't think that has sunk in yet," he said, when asked about leading the team to the World Cup as a coach. "Just being at a World Cup as a player is one of the most special things you can do. Now to be doing it as a coach with this group of players is something special."

Keylor Navas was called into action twice in the early going, palming away solid efforts from Antonee Robinson and Ricardo Pepi as the U.S. looked for a first World Cup qualification win at Costa Rica in the team's history.

Despite having the better of possession and playing against a rotated Costa Rica side, Berhalter's XI failed to find a way through the hosts' defense as the first half ended scoreless.

Costa Rica took the lead early in the second half from a corner kick when Juan Vargas met Brandon Aguilera's whipped in ball and powered a header past Zack Steffen to make it 1-0.

The hosts doubled their lead shortly after as Anthony Contreras swept home at the far post from a Jewison Bennette cross following a mad scramble in front of goal that saw Steffen pulled all the way out to the penalty spot.

Costa Rica celebrates
Costa Rica celebrates
AP Photo/Moises Castillo

The Americans steadied the ship and kept the deficit at two, ensuring a spot at the 2022 World Cup -- the 11th appearance in team history -- after missing out on the 2018 edition following a loss to Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of qualification in 2017.

The U.S., who will find out its 2022 group opponents in Friday's draw in Qatar, has used 114 new players since the elimination, including 88 under Berhalter. Thirty-eight players took the field during the 14 qualifiers during this cycle, plus six others were on rosters without getting in.

Berhalter has matches in June and September to help evaluate a pool of perhaps four dozen and choose what currently is a roster limited to 23.

Qualifying will not be as challenging for the 2026 World Cup, which expands to 48 nations. The U.S., Mexico and Canada are co-hosts, and all three are expected to get automatic berths.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.