The men of the United States are returning to the World Cup after an injury from missing the 2018 tournament, and on Wednesday won a place at this year’s championship in Qatar, despite a 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica on the last night of qualifying.

Juan Pablo Vargas got behind Walker Zimmermann and headed in Brandon Aguilera from the corner past goalkeeper Zach Steffen in the 51st minute, and Anthony Contreras in the 59th knocked down a cross from the bout after Steffen couldn’t stand the free kick.

The sold-out crowd of about 35,000 at the National Stadium revived, but the 5-1 defeat of the Americans in Panama at home last weekend gave them a big goal difference over Costa Rica. This meant that the US just had to avoid losing by six goals or more to get an automatic place, finishing in the top three countries of North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The American players on the bench came out on the field after the final whistle and exchanged handshakes and hugs with their teammates who finished the game, while home fans greeted Ticos.

“It’s a moment of honor for the team, a moment of honor for American football,” said American coach Greg Berhalter. “The team is thrilled.”

Canada, which completed its first trip to the 1986 World Cup with a victory on Sunday, finished first with 28 points after a 1-0 defeat to Panama, ahead of Mexico by a goal difference. El Tri was ahead of the U.S. and finished eighth in a row at the World Cup, while the U.S. finished third with 25 points and a goal difference of plus 11.

Costa Rica was fourth with 25 points and plus five, and Tikas will meet Oceania champion New Zealand in June in the playoffs with one game and get a place in 32 countries.

While the U.S. won six of seven home games with one draw, they finished with one win, three defeats and three away draws. The Americans have never won a qualifier in Costa Rica, losing 10 and drawing.

In the draw on Friday, the United States will find out which three countries they will meet in the group stage, which will begin on November 21 in a tournament postponed for five months to avoid the summer heat in the desert. A growing and increasingly hypercritical base of supporters hopes that Christian Pulisic & Co. will reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.

“This group can do some damage,” Berhalter said.

Defensive midfielder Tyler Adams left the game on Wednesday with a bruise above his left knee.

Ticos coach Luis Fernando Suarez did not open the starting lineup after Sunday’s victory in El Salvador, who had yellow cards, not wanting to risk disqualification in the playoffs.

The clinch took place on the 1267th day after the shocking defeat of Trinidad and Tobago with a score of 2: 1, which stopped a series of Americans with seven appearances at the World Cup in a row. Pulisic was in tears after the defeat, which led to a reshuffle in the U.S. Football Federation and the hiring of Berhalter in December 2018 as the team’s fourth coach in 25 months.

Since retiring, the U.S. has used 114 new players, including 88 under Berhalter. Thirty-eight players came on the field during 14 qualifying matches, and six more were on the rosters without getting hit.

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

The qualifying tournament, which began with fireworks over the field in the first minutes in San Salvador, El Salvador, on September 2, ended with pyrotechnics.

The U.S. covered 25,042 miles on charters – just over the globe at 24,901 – plus players had up to five transatlantic round trips, with Adams of Germany and Anthony Robinson of England making the most. The games were held at 3 degrees (minus 16 degrees Celsius) in St. Paul, Minnesota, and 85 degrees (29 degrees Celsius) in Austin, Texas.

Ever since Paul Calijura’s stunning goal in Trinidad before the 1990 tournament, the U.S. has not won in its last game. The Americans assured themselves of three games in reserve in 2006, two in 2014 and one game in 1998, 2002 and 2010. All these clinches were with victories.

Qualifying will not be so difficult for the 2026 World Cup, which is expanding to 48 countries. The US, Mexico and Canada are joint hosts, and all three are expected to receive automatic berths.

The United States returns to the World Cup despite a 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica

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