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World Cup berth in sight, but USMNT must deal with motivated Costa Rica

Clint Dempsey

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The U.S. Men’s National Team may be just around the corner from securing a berth at the 2014 World Cup, but the only sure way to move closer to that ultimate goal is by grabbing a result on Friday against a foe with plenty of reasons to be motivated.

The Americans are set to play in the seventh World Cup qualifier of the CONCACAF Hexagonal on Friday night, as they take on the same Costa Rica team they beat, 1-0, twice this year. Those victories in qualifying and the Gold Cup, especially March’s unforgettable World Cup qualifier played in a blizzard in Denver, have the Ticos and their fans foaming at the mouth ahead of the game on their home soil, but they are not the only reasons for why Costa Rica is eagerly looking to once again playing a U.S. team that is currently riding an impressive 12-game winning streak.

With a win, second-place Costa Rica could leapfrog the top-of-the-table Americans in the Hexagonal standings while also taking a big step towards Brazil 2014. That is a realistic goal for the Ticos given their dominance over the U.S. in games played in Costa Rica, where the U.S. has never won in qualifying, and the Americans know another difficult match against its familiar opponent awaits.

“We expect them to play off the emotion in all ways,” said midfielder Michael Bradley. “To play off the emotion of the crowd, to play off, I’m sure in a lot of ways, their emotions left over from the game in March, to play off their emotions of us knocking them out of the World Cup last go-round.

“There’s a lot of things that go into this game and for us, we need to be ready to step on the field in a tough environment and be ready to stick together, be ready to know how to manage certain parts of the game, like is always necessary in these games, in these atmospheres.”

What is playing in Jurgen Klinsmann’s side’s favor is that Friday’s game will not be played at Estadio Saprissa, a well-documented house of horrors for the United States. Instead, the match will take place at Estadio Nacional, a fairly new home for the Costa Ricans and one that might suit the Americans better than Estadio Saprissa has in the past.

For instance, the surface on Friday night will be grass and not the infamous rock-hard turf that the U.S. has become all too familiar with. Then there’s the racetrack at Estadio Nacional that creates some space between the fans and the field, a stark difference than at Estadio Saprissa, where the fans were seemingly on top of the field.

“In theory, it’s an advantage to not have to play there but that doesn’t guarantee anything,” said Landon Donovan, who is back with the U.S.’s A team for the first time in a while. “We like our chances playing against this team on the grass field vs. turf in a stadium that’s relatively safe vs. one that feels relatively unsafe. But it’s only an advantage if we make it an advantage.

“It doesn’t mean that anything changes on the field. We still have to do the things that you need to do to win and we’re playing a good team, so it’s still going to be difficult.”

The U.S. has been on the receiving end of some gamesmanship since landing in the Central American country on Tuesday night, but the Americans have said that they are not overly bothered by what they have had to deal with. What they are more focused on is their gameplan against Costa Rica, a team that has thrown numbers behind the ball and absorbed the U.S.’s pressure while trying to hit back on the counter in their previous two meetings.

The Americans are expecting the Ticos to be a little more attacking-minded since Costa Rica is playing at home and have crafty veteran strikers Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz at their disposal. But that will not prevent the U.S. from trying to continue to play its attacking style under Klinsmann, a style that has the Americans on the best winning streak in all of international soccer right now.

“We’ll play our game, we will try to take our game to them, and see what they want to do with that,” said Klinsmann. “I think we are now having that confidence to do that even away from home. It doesn’t mean that we necessarily always win, get the result, but from a style of play, that’s what what we’re working on, we understand that, and that’s what we’re going to do also on (Friday).”

One concern for the U.S. heading into Friday is the status of Jozy Altidore. The in-form veteran forward is still recovering from a thigh problem sustained while with Sunderland, and he might be forced to sit it out against the Costa Ricans after being limited in training earlier in the week.

Another worry for the United States is that they have eight players sitting on yellow cards, one more away from a one-game suspension. Altidore is one of those players as are Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson and Matt Besler.

Still, don’t expect the U.S. players to go about things on the field much differently on Friday, not even with a match against arch-rival Mexico looming.

“We’re all aware that we have yellow cards,” said Bradley. “Certainly, when you’re one yellow card away from being suspended you want to be real careful to make sure that you’re not picking up any stupid yellow cards. Whether it’s speaking to the referee, whether it’s getting into it with a guy on the other team, those are things you want to avoid, absolutely.

“But when it comes to playing in the game, tackling, coming away with plays, if necessary stopping a play that’s going the other way, those are things you have to do and those are things you can’t be worried about.”

The Americans have recorded a bunch of firsts under Klinsmann, and topping Costa Rica away from home would be another notable accomplishment for the confident squad. The main task for the U.S., however, is simply to grab three points on the road so as to near earning a berth next summer’s World Cup.

“The hardest thing to do is finish it off,” said Donovan. “These are arguably the two hardest games we’ll play aside from away at Azteca. But you don’t want to go to Game 9, even if it’s against a team that may be eliminated, without (having qualified).

“You want to get it done as soon as possible and if we can do it Friday and results go our way, we have to do it. We have to really smell the blood and just go for it and wrap it up if we can.”


  1. On a different note, have people read Grant Wahl’s piece on Johannsson today? It’s kind of amazing that former (forgettable) Red Bulls midfielder Victor Palsson played such an important role in the development of Johansson’s pro career.

  2. Am I the only one who thinks it’s absurd that “accumulating” two yellows throughout WCQ results in a suspension? What’s so horrible about two warnings over a period of 16 games that it warrants a suspension? It should either be 3-4 yellows before a suspension, or a yellow should come off your record after 4-5 games without one.

  3. Hey Y’all – does anyone know if ESPN 3 or anyone else will have the game available to watch online AFTER the live broadcast? I know they sometimes make it available 24 hours later… Can’t watch tonight but don’t wanna miss it!

    • Seriously its always kind of funny when we bring when we bring in the other young strikers like Johannsson or Byod as the future. Then realize Altidore is only like a few months older then them.

    • -Having the USMNT go through the public lines for passport control and then having them go through the airport, where they were heckled and the team bus egged.
      -Giving 3 sites for practice facilities and then having them refuse to allow the USMNT practice there.
      -Denying the USMNT access to game balls until Thursday, which is FIFA mandated.
      -Taxi drivers are trying to organize to create a traffic jam so as to delay the team bus from arriving at the game on time. Still to be seen if that materializes.
      Probably more but that’s all that’s been reported.

      • No problem, it will give some extra motivation to our boys to beat them. And I hope that when they score they will do a snow angel celebration, as one of the posters suggested the other day. And given their warm hospitality, we’ll host the next home WC qualifying game against Costa Rica in Anchorage, Alaska.

      • Well I live here in CR and I can tell you they are totally up for this one, convinced they were robbed in March and certain that God will grant them a glorious victory tonight. Words like “revancha” and “embestir” are heard everywhere.

        Vamos a ver…

  4. We can expect the forwards and midfield to do well. If the back line can hold it’s own we should have three points. Timmy
    JJ MB
    GZ FJ

  5. It is time to show what they are made of.

    US tonight, Sounder’s home game tomorrow. Fun stuff, can hardly wait.

  6. The continued insistence by the ticos that the US cheated in the snow game has to be added motivation for the yanks. They want to show them that they can win in home, away, rain, shine or snow. The US attack has to much quality for te CR defense where the US defense is equal to the task of nullifying the cr attacking stars.

    The one player I’d be worried about is sabo. He can be silent for like 60 min with no service but the one he gets he can put away. He’s been lethal this year with his service for RSL.

  7. The Gold Cup was great as well as the win over B.H. These next 2 games will be the true test of where the USMNT stands. I would take a well played draw this evening and then see the fireworks in Columbus next week. For once we will playing El Tri with a decided home field advantage. The atmosphere there will be special. Let get tonights game take care of first though. Can’t wait for it either. I love the attacking style we now play. It was only 2-1/2 years ago that we would be the defensive team looking to counter to win a game. I expect it will work tonight. 13 IN A ROW!!!

  8. Since Costa Rica will be fired up, the US has to keep their cool and maybe the Ticos will get some yellows early, requiring them to back off. Whatever, it should be intense and fun to watch.

    • I agree. This is one of those, “if we can withstand the first 10 minutes, we’ll be OK” games. I gotta believe CR is going to come out super fast with a lot of energy. But when the adrenaline wears off they’ll crash and the US can take control and grab 3 points.

    • I would be shocked to see any early yellow cards against the Ticos in the early going tonight, especially if the referee is from anywhere in Concacaf besides Mexico or Canada. Past trips to the region has shown us that the home teams in Central America can pretty much get away with anything short of murder and even that might only get them a yellow card.

      • Adding to our concerns with the subsequent Mexico matchup and 8 of our players sitting on Yellows and a Mexican ref officiating. Not to suggest that an CONCACAF official would be anything other than unbiased and impartial but……..

      • My Comcast menu showed the same thing, but I searched around and found another BeIN channel – the english language one, I think – and it’s live on that one. Oddly the live showing didn’t come up when I searched “soccer” on the menu, but just searched around until the other BeIN channel popped up. Good luck.

      • You should if you have the Fox Soccer package. In the bay area (SFO) it is channel 429. (Although I am visiting Estes Park, CO where it is available only on DirecTV sports package. Best of luck

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