"We obviously didn't play well tonight", said Arena.
After going into the locker room down a goal, Tim Ream almost pulled the US level with a nodded effort that bounced over the bar in the 47 minute.
"Their game flows through Bradley and we knew if we focused on [him and Pulisic] they wouldn't have many clear-cut opportunities", he told MLSsoccer.com. Minus the injured Joel Campbell, the Ticos threw out their strongest possible XI, set up in their 5-4- 1 and set out to soak up attacking pressure, press and then pick the United States off on the counter, which they executed to perfection.
Mexico has secured a spot in the 2018 World Cup courtesy of a 1-0 win against Panama at the Azteca.
It was a very different Costa Rica side than the one the Americans faced in the Gold Cup semifinals in July.
Luckily, the USA does have some history of success in Honduras. In addition to Tuesday's match against Honduras in San Pedro Sula, there is a home match against Panama, and then the Hex finale away to Trinidad & Tobago. "It's going to be a battle amongst the remaining four teams", Arena said. The top three teams of the table will enter World Cup 2018 Russian Federation whereas the fourth team will be in playoff matches.
"Qualifying has been in jeopardy since past year for most teams", he said. It has lost multiple home qualifiers in one qualifying campaign for the first time since the 1958 cycle. The US had been 9-0-5 since Arena's return, winning home qualifiers against Honduras and Trinidad and gaining draws at Panama and Mexico. The Real Madrid man stuck out a foot to block Christian Pulisic's deflected effort in the 67th minute before sprawling low to deny Jozy Altidore's driven strike in the 81st minute. Navas then made a sliding stop on Altidore just before Urena's second goal. They don't complement each other well - neither player is athletic enough to cover mistakes and both are acceptable, but not great passers - and tend to make a lot of the same mistakes. I think he got a little frustrated.
The Americans had no answer for forward Marco Urena and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who assumed the starring roles in front of a crowd with a number of Costa Rica supporters.
Arena repeatedly hectored Panamanian referee John Pitti, who did not call penalty kicks when Altidore was pushed to the ground in the first half and Clint Dempsey was knocked down in the second.
It was symbolic of the defensive breakdowns for the Americans throughout the match, as Costa Rica took advantage of its limited chances even though it had just 39 percent of the possession, per ESPNFC. Ream almost gifted Costa Rica the opener, turning the ball over in his own half to Bryan Ruiz, who spared the Fulham man blushes by making a mess of things after a nice run on goal. Urena slotted the ball to the far post, past the goalkeeper's outstretched right arm. "We had to break down seven or eight players for long periods of the game". We had a couple of plays where we have to put the ball in the back of the net and it's 1-0. The moment seemed perfectly poised for Dempsey; the U.S. trailed by only a goal and by scoring Dempsey would break the all-time men's record of 57 goals he shares with Landon Donovan.