The United States Men’s National Team takes on Costa Rica on Friday in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
The game has been branded a “must-win situation” by USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann (via Goal.com's Avi Creditor, h/t Yahoo! Sports) as the U.S. opened up the final round of World Cup qualifying with a loss to Honduras and will face Mexico away only four days after the Costa Rica match.
Here is your complete preview to the Costa Rica match.
How to Follow the Game
Assuming you won’t be there in person, the game will be broadcast starting at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN.
If you’re looking to watch the game with some fellow USMNT supporters, check out this listing of home bars for your local American Outlaws chapter.
If you’ll be traveling or otherwise unable to watch the game on TV, I will be blogging the game live from 9 p.m. ET at this link.
The game is being held at the home stadium of the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City, Colo., just outside Denver.
The venue was chosen based on several factors. First, for World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. soccer team prefers to have small venues where it can guarantee a large, boisterous, pro-American crowd. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, a soccer-specific venue with a capacity of 18,000 fans, is perfect for that requirement.
Secondly, the venue gives the U.S. the advantage of playing in a colder climate, which should make Central American competitors like Costa Rica uncomfortable. The weather forecast currently has the game-time temperature around 40 degrees.
Lastly, the game is at altitude, with Commerce City being 5,200 feet above sea level. While this does not necessarily give the U.S. an advantage for this game, it should help prepare them for the difficulty of playing at altitude four days later at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
On Tuesday, in a fairly damning piece, Sporting News’ Brian Straus published an article on the USMNT that featured anonymous quotes from many of the players.
In the article, the players openly disagreed with many of Klinsmann’s decisions, including leaving Carlos Bocanegra out of the lineup against Honduras, the coach's overall tactical acumen and his ability to communicate what he expects from his players on game day.
Furthermore, the players questioned the commitment of the German-American contingent of USMNT, Klinsmann’s constant changes to the lineup and his ability to learn from his mistakes. One player even went so far as to call Klinsmann “scatterbrained.”
With all of this breaking just before the crucial World Cup qualifier on Friday, one has to wonder how it will affect team chemistry. Will the players, even subconsciously, give less than 100 percent in the hope that a loss will get Klinsmann fired? How will Jermaine Jones, one of the U.S. players with German roots, react to being criticized by his teammates? Will he even care?
How will Klinsmann handle the article with the team knowing that several of the players in the locker room have no faith in him? Will he try and suss out the players who threw him under the bus?
If the U.S. team heads onto the field on Friday night with a fractured mentality, it could spell disaster.
The Matchup to Watch
The biggest matchup to watch when the game does finally kickoff is the Costa Rican attack against the untested U.S. defense. Four of the U.S. defenders (Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Justin Morrow and Tony Beltran) called up for the game have a combined seven international caps. Of those seven international caps, five have come in the U.S.’ annual January friendlies, usually reserved for the “B” team.
The “experienced” defenders on the U.S. roster are Clarence Goodson (who is widely expected to be on the bench) with 34 caps and Geoff Cameron with 12 caps.
Costa Rica’s attack, however, boasts some very exciting talent in Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, Real Betis’ Joel Campbell and Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio. All three of these attackers must be licking their chops at the opportunity to match themselves up against an unintimidating U.S. defense.
The U.S. should be able to hide some of their weakness in the back if their midfield is able to control the tempo of the game and dominate possession, but expect the Costa Rican counterattacks to provide the U.S. with plenty of headaches.
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