Sebastian Lletget headed the ball down, and the emotions overtook as soon as the ball went into the net.
In the stadium where he scored his first international goal before a devastating foot injury he feared might have ended his career, Lletget delivered a much happier highlight in front of family and friends who made the short drive down from his native San Francisco.
Lletget scored and assisted in his first game back at Avaya Stadium since the injury, leading the United States over Costa Rica, 2-0, in an exhibition on Saturday that made Gregg Berhalter just the third coach to win his first two matches with the American national team.
“From the last time I was here, it’s always going to be difficult when I step into this building,” Lletget said. “I’m glad I have another good memory to overcome everything that happened.”
Lletget, a 26-year-old midfielder who entered in the second half, scored in the 80th minute off a cross from Jonathan Lewis, and then fed Paul Arriola for a goal in the 88th minute.
Both of Lletget’s international goals were scored less than an hour drive from where he grew up. He put the United States ahead of Honduras in the fifth minute of a World Cup qualifier on March 24, 2017, and then sustained a Lisfranc injury to his left foot 10 minutes later on a slide tackle. Lletget needed surgery and did not play again for the national team until last Nov. 15.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play again,” he said. “I thought it was a sprain and then you go, ‘I don’t know when you’re going to walk.’ Six months later, I’m just walking again. I overcame a lot.”
Berhalter began with a 3-0 win over Panama last weekend and joined Bob Bradley (2007) and Robert Millar (1930) as the only coaches to win their first two United States matches.
Berhalter, 45, was hired in December after the Americans went more than a year without a full-time coach following the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Bruce Arena quit after the loss at Trinidad and Tobago in the final qualifier, and Dave Sarachan took over as the interim coach.
Because the game, which drew just 13,656, was not on a FIFA international date, the entire American roster was from Major League Soccer. Only Arriola, Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes had appeared for the national team at least 10 times in their careers
Berhalter will have his full player pool for the first time for exhibition matches against Ecuador on March 21 in Orlando, Fla., and against Chile five days later in Houston.
After a mostly lackluster first half, the United States started creating chances in the second half. Nick Lima hit the post from inside the box early in the second half and Cristian Roldan struck a post from outside the box in the 68th.
“I think the mentality in the first half was too passive,” Berhalter said. “We wanted to be much more aggressive. We addressed that at halftime.”
Lletget entered in the 63rd minute and broke through after Trapp sent a long pass to Lewis, who settled the ball and then sent a cross through the box that Lletget headed down. Trapp was inserted in the starting lineup in place of the former captain Michael Bradley, one of two lineup changes. Arriola took over from Jeremy Ebobisse.
The Americans put the game away when Lletget took a kick from goalkeeper Zack Steffen near midfield and then sent a pass to Arriola, who beat goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado to the ball and knocked it in before tumbling over him.
“He came in and changed the game for us,” Trapp said of Lletget. “Not only scoring the goal, but his ability to maintain possession and find good pockets.”