Johnny Acosta and Celso Borges scored early and Joel Campbell added a goal on a late counterattack as Costa Rica beat the visiting United States 3-1 Friday night at San Jose in a World Cup qualifier.
Avenging a March loss to the U.S. in a Colorado snow storm, Costa Rica ended the Americans' team-record 12-game winning streak — three short of the world mark set by Spain.
"Every time this process goes on it's never easy, always unpredictable," American midfielder Landon Donovan said after his first qualifier in 15 months. "There are a lot of ups and downs. We've been on ups recently, and now this is a down. We'll have to see how we recover and see what we're made of."
Clint Dempsey, making his 100th international appearance, converted a penalty in the 43rd minute for the U.S. and nearly levelled with a 20-yard shot off the post in the 56th.
"We were just disappointed in the way we came out," American goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "They got their fair share of luck and we didn't help ourselves."
Costa Rica moved into first place in the final round of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean with 14 points, one ahead of the U.S. with three games remaining. Honduras is third with 10 points after a shocking 2-1 win at Mexico, which is fourth with eight points.
The top three nations qualify for next year's 32-team field in Brazil, and the fourth-place finisher goes to a playoff against New Zealand for another berth.
The Americans could clinch their seventh straight World Cup berth if they beat Mexico on Tuesday and Honduras wins or draws at home against Panama.
Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler will miss the match after getting their second yellow cards in qualifying, which triggers an automatic one-game suspension. Altidore was given his for bumping Michael Umana in front of Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez during second-half injury time.
"It was absolutely not necessary," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "But it is what it is."
Midfielder Michael Bradley also figures to miss the Mexico match. Originally in the starting lineup, Bradley limped off the field during warmups after spraining his left ankle and was on crutches at the bench during the game. He was replaced by Cameron.
"Michael might be our most important player," Donovan said.
Dempsey became the 14th U.S. player to make 100 international appearances. Michael Orozco started at right back, his first qualifying appearance since Oct. 15, 2008, against Trinidad and Tobago.
Costa Rica attacked from the start, and Howard had to sprawl 85 seconds in to deflect an 8-yard shot from Bryan Ruiz.
Campbell's corner kick in the second minute went to the near post, where Acosta sent a header in off the head of DaMarcus Beasley.
Christian Bolanos then sent a long cross around Omar Gonzalez from Costa Rica's left flank, and Borges climbed over Beasley for a header to Howard's right from 6 yards.
Dempsey's penalty came after Graham Zusi played a long ball into the area in the 41st minute, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas tripped up Fabian Johnson. Dempsey's spot kick went in off Navas' body for his 36th international goal.
Altidore, who had scored in an American-record five straight games, didn't start after injuring his right hamstring during training with Sunderland but entered in the 71st, 13 minutes after Eddie Johnson.
Costa Rica scored the final goal after Altidore's shot was blocked by the defence. Jose Miguel Cubero played a long ball to Campbell, who beat Besler to the ball, held off the defender and slotted a shot past Howard.
"Unfortunately we fell asleep for one play and they got the goal," Donovan said.
Donovan earned his spot back on the team after a four-month sabbatical and a strong performance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July.
"Qualifying is all about ups and downs. It's never going to be easy. It never is. Every time is hard," Donovan said. "So we've got to get ourselves recovered physically, recovered mentally, and we have to beat Mexico now on Tuesday."
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