CONCACAF road games are notoriously hard, and it's no secret that most teams gunning for the World Cup play to win at home and draw on the road. If you can pull off that feat with some regularity during the hexagonal stage of qualifying, you're all but guaranteed a spot in the World Cup.
However, for the United States, playing for a draw and parking the bus against Costa Rica on Friday night would be a mistake.
For one thing, this is a game the United States can win. Costa Rica is a tough, scrappy squad, but with players like Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, the United States have the playmakers and goalscorers capable of stealing three points.
There is enough quality on this American team to play the role of aggressors. Besides, given the hot streak this team is on and the wonderful footy they've been playing, an overly conservative game plan would feel so uncultured—at least in soccer terms.
How far we've come.
If the United States does approach this game timidly, they'll find a very motivated Costa Rican team that is plenty eager to stomp them. Remember, it was Costa Rica that lost to the Americans in March on a snow-covered field, later appealing the result to no avail.
If the USMNT parks the bus, they will play right into the hands of a Costa Rican team gunning for revenge. And if you don't think there is bad blood here, just check out this story Keith Olbermann did on the game for his new show on ESPN:
Plus, revenge aside, three points would be huge for Costa Rica. Currently second on the table with 11 points, a win wouldn't guarantee the country a spot in the World Cup, but it would make it very unlikely they'd miss the trip.
With that being said, the three points would go even further for the United States. Believe it or not, with a win, there is the slight chance the USMNT could guarantee a trip to Brazil.
From Phil Schoen of beIN Sport:
Based on possible outcomes, regardless of how likely, #USMNT has a 7.4% chance of clinching a berth for Brazil 2014 tonight.— Phil Schoen (@PhilSchoen) September 6, 2013
For that reason alone, gunning for the three points is smart business. Why do tomorrow what you can (possibly) do today?
And, speaking of tomorrow, the next game on this international break for the United States is Mexico. Yes, the game will be in Columbus, but there is still the very real possibility of losing to an El Tri side that currently sits in third place and needs wins, not draws.
Imagine for a second drawing with Costa Rica and losing to Mexico.
Suddenly, a comfortable lead atop the hexagonal won't be so secure. Instead of wrapping up a berth with two games to go, the United States will find itself once again embroiled in a battle for one of the three automatic berths so as to avoid a playoff with New Zealand.
Add it all up, and it's pretty simple—the conservative route is not the smart one in this particular fixture. Generally speaking, playing for a draw on the road in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying is the logical play.
In this particular case, the United States should go for the kill. You better believe Costa Rica will be doing the same.