SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The United States men are returning to the World Cup after the trauma of missing the 2018 tournament, clinching a berth for this year’s championship in Qatar on Wednesday despite a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica on the final night of qualifying.
Juan Pablo Vargas got behind Walker Zimmerman and headed Brandon Aguilera’s corner kick past goalkeeper Zack Steffen in the 51st minute, and Anthony Contreras knocked in a cross off a scramble in the 59th after Steffen couldn’t hold onto a free kick.
A sellout crowd of about 35,000 in National Stadium came to life, but the Americans’ 5-1 rout of Panama at home last weekend gave them a huge goal-difference margin over Costa Rica. That meant the U.S. merely had to avoid losing by six goals or more in order to claim an automatic berth by finishing among the top three nations in North and Central America and Caribbean.
American players on the bench walked onto the field at the final whistle and exchanged handshakes and hugs with their teammates who ended the game, while home fans cheered the Ticos.
Canada, which had clinched its first World Cup trip since 1986 with a win Sunday, finished first with 28 points after a 1-0 loss at Panama, ahead of Mexico on goal difference. El Tri moved ahead of the U.S. and clinched its eighth straight World Cup, while the U.S. finished third with 25 points and a plus-11 goal difference.