San Jose, Costa Rica The United States put its chances of qualifying for next year's World Cup in jeopardy, playing dismally in a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica on Wednesday night.
The Americans, who had been unbeaten in the first five games of the regional finals, have lost three straight qualifiers for the first time in 29 years and tumbled into fourth place in the finals of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.
Costa Rica (6-1-1), behind two goals by Rolando Fonseca, clinched its first World Cup berth since 1990, totally outplaying an American team that only twice came close to scoring. With five minutes to go, a special edition of the El Dia newspaper was handed out through the stands, proclaiming the victory.
The United States (4-3-1), seeking its fourth straight World Cup appearance, left itself little room for error in its final two games, against Jamaica on Oct. 7, at Foxboro, Mass., and at Trinidad and Tobago on Nov. 11.
The Americans probably need a win and a tie and possibly two wins to capture one of the region's three berths. Both opponents have little incentive, though. Trinidad (0-7-1) has been eliminated and Jamaica (2-4-2) has virtually no chance of qualifying.
Honduras (4-2-2) moved into second place with 14 points by beating Jamaica 1-0 Wednesday night and Mexico (4-3-1) took over third with a 3-0 win over Trinidad.
There were just two American flags visible in the crowd of 24,000 at Sparissa Stadium, and the U.S. players looked as outnumbered as their fans.
Costa Rica dominated throughout, and the Americans didn't have a legitimate scoring chance. Playing a much more defensive lineup than in Saturday's 3-2 loss to Honduras, the Americans still had breakdowns.
Fonseca nearly scored in the 26th minute, but his header toward an open goal was headed away by Chris Armas at the goal line. Carlos Llamosa caused the penalty kick when he stuck out his right leg and clearly tripped the left leg of Ronaldo Gomez, who was streaking into the penalty area.
Goalkeeper Brad Friedel dived to his right on the penalty kick, and Fonseca's shot went in straight up the middle of the goal.