Sixty seconds in, Costa Rica were celebrating and the USA's World Cup campaign was spinning out of control.
Sergino Dest and Tim Weah, two young Americans unscarred by the failure of four years ago, got them back on track in Columbus, Ohio.
Dest curled an 18-yard, left-footed shot past Keylor Navas in the 25th minute with Weah deflecting the go-ahead goal in the 66th and the US exhaled with a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night that eased pressure as qualifying neared the halfway point.
"We can't lose again ... We needed it really bad," 20-year-old Barcelona defender Dest said.
Weah, a 21-year-old son of Liberia President and former FIFA Player of the Year George Weah, joined the line-up about five minutes before kick-off after Paul Arriola injured his groin during the warm-up.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, one of nine new starters inserted following Sunday's dismal 1-0 loss at Panama, made a costly clearance that led to Keysher Fuller's goal 60 seconds in, the fastest goal conceded by the US in 23 years.
"All of World Cup qualifying is difficult. All of World Cup qualifying is challenging, and sometimes I feel like people forgot that," US coach Gregg Berhalter said.
"People think it's a cakewalk, and we're going to play the youngest team in the history of US soccer in a game and we're just going to breeze through these games. It's not realistic."
Mexico leads the CONCACAF group with 14 points after a 2-0 win at El Salvador, and the US are second with 11 going into their November 12 meeting with the Mexicans.
Canada have 10 after a 4-1 win over Panama (eight).
Costa Rica (six), Jamaica and El Salvador (five each) and Honduras (three) trail after six of 14 matches.
Jamaica registered their first victory by winning 2-0 at Honduras.
The top three teams qualify for next year's World Cup, and the fourth-placed team advances to a playoff.
Australian Associated Press
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.