SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- The United States men's national soccer team has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, securing its berth to the tournament in Qatar after missing out on the 2018 edition in Russia.
In what was largely a formality, the U.S. lost 2-0 to Costa Rica on Wednesday, but still managed to secure one of CONCACAF's three automatic berths, along with group winner Canada and rival Mexico.
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The U.S., which went into Wednesday's game at Estadio Nacional needing only to avoid a loss of six goals or more to punch its ticket, finished the 14-game qualifying cycle with a record of seven wins, three losses and four draws for 25 points. That total left the U.S. three points behind Canada and Mexico, and level with Costa Rica, with only a goal differential of +11 ensuring the Americans finished ahead of Wednesday's hosts (+5).
Though the team was inconsistent at times during qualifying, it remained in a strong position throughout the cycle.
"It's amazing what this group of guys have been able to do over these last seven months," head coach Gregg Berhalter said after clinching the spot on Wednesday. "I've really seen the team grow and this is a great accomplishment. We are looking forward to the World Cup."
Berhalter was part of the U.S. team that reached the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup, where it lost to Germany. He was also part of its 2006 World Cup squad, but did not play any games as it was knocked out in the group stage.
"I don't think that has sunk in yet," he said, when asked about leading the team to the World Cup as a coach. "Just being at a World Cup as a player is one of the most special things you can do. Now to be doing it as a coach with this group of players is something special."
Berhalter used what amounted to a first-choice lineup, while Costa Rica played a mostly rotated team due to having nine players on yellow cards ahead of a potential playoff, which will now take place in Qatar against Oceania winners New Zealand.
The supposed talent discrepancy didn't matter.
Despite the U.S. controlling play for most of the game, Juan Vargas (51st minute) and Anthony Contreras (59th) took their chances to put Costa Rica up 2-0 early in the second half. But needing four more to clinch qualification and send the U.S. to the intercontinental playoff proved to be too difficult.
Although only four players on the current roster were with the team when it missed the 2018 World Cup, the group has been saddled with correcting that failure. None more so than Christian Pulisic, the star Chelsea forward.
"I think that Christian has always felt that responsibility," midfielder Tyler Adams said on Tuesday.
"Growing up as sort of that golden child in [this] U.S. soccer generation, people put expectations on him. To be quite frank with you, he's dealt with them better than anybody would really deal with that. In every single situation, he's expected to do things that people like [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo are supposed to do.
"He's supposed to bring us to the World Cup."
And while that pressure appeared to get to Pulisic at times during qualifying, his hat trick against Panama on Sunday came in the most consequential game the U.S. had played in years. Pulisic finished the cycle with a team-best five goals. At 23 years old, Pulisic's 12 goals over the past two qualifying cycles rank fourth all time in U.S. history.
Qualification wasn't the only goal the U.S. was chasing, right-back DeAndre Yedlin said Tuesday.
"I think at this point, I wouldn't say it's the ultimate goal, I think the ultimate goal is obviously to win a World Cup," he said. "But there's steps you have to take to get there and one of the huge steps is to qualify for World Cup."
The U.S. will be placed into Pot 2 for the draw to decide the eight four-team groups, which will be held Friday at noon ET in Doha, Qatar.
Only three teams in the 32-side field have yet to be determined. In a pair of one-game playoffs in Qatar in June, Costa Rica will play New Zealand while Peru will play either Australia or the United Arab Emirates.
The final spot will belong to the winner of Wales vs. Scotland/Ukraine. The Scotland-Ukraine playoff match originally scheduled for March 24 was postponed following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has not been rescheduled.