- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bob Bradley might want to take the tape of his team’s loss in Costa Rica on Wednesday night, put it in a lead box and dump it into the ocean.

Costa Rica cruised to a 3-1 victory at San Jose’s Saprissa Stadium - known as “Monster’s Cave” - in one of the U.S. squad’s worst performances in a long time.

“We fell short. We recognize that,” the coach said.

The U.S. defense was woeful, enough so to make Costa Rica look like Barcelona. Alvaro Saborio danced through the U.S. back line and scored a world-class goal just 79 seconds into the match, and matters worsened from there.

The stadium’s threadbare artificial turf doesn’t provide an excuse for the U.S. team - a D.C. United squad fielding mostly reserves played well on the Saprissa surface in a 2-2 tie in October.

Many of the U.S. team’s overseas players seemed tired after their long European seasons - Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra appeared to need a good holiday.

The squad also missed the grit and hustle of 34-year-old defender Frankie Hejduk, and Bradley will have to rethink his choice of putting DeMarcus Beasley in the left back role - it didn’t work.

Freddy Adu and the muscular Charlie Davies did add a spark when they came on late in the game. It would be nice to see them get time against Honduras on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago - a game that suddenly takes on added meaning.

With the loss, the United States (2-1-1, seven points) relinquished its lead in the six-team final World Cup qualifying round to Costa Rica (3-1-0, nine points).

Honduras (1-1-1, four points) won’t be an easy opponent, and Soldier Field won’t necessarily be a friendly venue - most of the 50,000 tickets sold for the game went to Honduran fans. And the Catrachos were the last team to beat the Americans in World Cup qualifying on U.S. soil, a 3-2 victory at RFK Stadium in September 2001.

Honduras, led by Toronto FC’s in-form midfielder, Amado Guevara, is confident after a 3-1 win over Mexico in April.

Saturday’s meeting marks the U.S. team’s fifth match in the 10-game World Cup qualifying process and the halfway mark on the road to South Africa.

“We have a great opportunity now to really finish the first half of this round and put ourselves in a good position as we go into the last five matches,” Bradley said.

The team will play without Michael Bradley, who was suspended for the game. Major League Soccer’s leading scorer, Conor Casey of the Colorado Rapids, was called in to replace the injured Brian Ching (hamstring).

A busy June is ahead for the U.S. team. On Monday, the team leaves for South Africa to play in the Confederations Cup, where it faces a stiff opening-round schedule against world champion Italy (June 15), five-time World Cup winner Brazil (June 18) and African champion Egypt (June 21).

In other big World Cup qualifiers on Saturday, Portugal, with star striker Cristiano Ronaldo, can kiss its World Cup hopes goodbye if it does not get a result at Albania in Group 1. Portugal currently is seven points adrift of joint leaders Denmark and Hungary, both with 13 points.

Holland can be the first European team to book a ticket to South Africa if it beats Iceland on the road in Group 9. In Group 8, Ireland (12 points) can leapfrog Italy (14 points) to the top with a win at Bulgaria.

Beckham update - David Beckham’s loan spell at A.C. Milan has come to an end. He is now with the England squad for World Cup qualifiers on the road against Kazakhstan on Saturday and at home June 10 against Andorra.

The midfielder is expected to return to the Los Angeles Galaxy on July 11 and play for the first time July 16 in a road match against the New York Red Bulls.

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