The United States' national soccer team has made some encouraging strides toward becoming a legitimate World Cup contender, but before Jurgen Klinsmann's squad can even begin to start dreaming about the journey to Brazil, the Americans will face Costa Rica Friday evening in a qualifying match.
Generally speaking, the Costa Rican side is not one that the U.S. should lose sleep over, but Klinsmann's club doesn't exactly have history on its side.
That's because the U.S. is winless over the course of its eight trips to Costa Rica.
But this U.S. team appears primed to make a deep run at the 2014 World Cup in Rio, and a match against an inferior opponent in a hostile environment such as this is an excellent test for the former German superstar's group.
Furthermore, a win for the American side would only reinforce the dominance it's displayed over CONCACAF opponents, especially against a Costa Rican squad that has given the U.S. some close matches in recent memory.
Less than two months ago, the U.S. managed to secure a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in Connecticut during Gold Cup group play, but more importantly, Clint Dempsey and company notched a win over their neighbors to the south in less-than-ideal circumstances in March.
Back on March 22nd, Dempsey tallied the match's only goal in a snow-filled affair, and regardless of the weather, the triumph clearly gave Klinsmann's side confidence going into the thick of the qualifying period.
Will the U.S. beat Costa Rica on the road?
Now, with a crucial clash on tap, the U.S. will once again have to overcome adversity, albeit of a different brand this time around.
Instead of snow, the American squad will likely have to endure through some rather harsh treatment from the locals, who have managed to make their presence felt already, according to Joe Prince-Wright of NBC Sports.
That animosity has boiled over as Klinsmann’s US national team arrived in San Jose earlier this week ahead of a crunch qualifier. Several stunts including road blockades, lack of training facilities, the US team bus being egged and many more issues have come to the fore as the Costa Ricans fans turn up the heat in the soccer rivalry.
To add an extra storyline to the mix, as if it needed one, a heavy series of rainstorms are heading towards Central America and could put the game in jeopardy if it falls in San Jose.
Assuming the match gets underway according to plan, the U.S. should view the showdown as an opportunity to cement its status as a World Cup participant, at the bare minimum.
As of now, the red, white and blue could potentially punch a ticket to Rio with a win, but they'll need some external help in order to do so.
But what may be even more important from a long-term scope is for the U.S. to continue the 12-game unbeaten streak it's been rolling with since May.
For a team like the United States, momentum will always be a key in international tournaments, because, quite frankly, this team does not have the talent to match up favorably with the world's best.
That being said, if this squad can post an impressive win, especially without star offensive threat Jozy Altidore, it would go a long way in establishing its credibility.
So far, the U.S. has played six World Cup qualifying matches in 2013 and hasn't lost a meaningful match of this nature since February, so another victory would be a timely confidence-booster.
At a minimum, the Americans have to hold Costa Rica to a draw, because otherwise, the underdog side could leapfrog the U.S. and gain first place in CONCACAF, which would certainly not be a comforting situation for Klinsmann.
Assuming the U.S. is able to capture a victory, this match could be looked back upon as a turning point for Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and company. And if this group can pull out a win in such hostile conditions, there's no telling what it's capable of next summer.