The two-month hiatus from World Cup Qualifying is almost behind us as the U.S. prepares to kickoff a busy summer starting tomorrow in San Juan, Costa Rica.
Recent fixtures in the Central American country have not favored the U.S. The most recent match up was a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of los Ticos.
Although qualification to the 2006 competition in Germany was already clinched, going back even further reveals the U.S. has never won a qualifier in Costa Rica. In fact, their away record is a less-than flattering mark of 0-6-1.
That brings us to tomorrow's game. With a 2-0-1 start in the hexagonal stage of qualifying, confidence should be high in the U.S. camp. They lead Costa Rica by just a point, however, and los Ticos will no doubt be their biggest test on the road.
A repeat performance of their 2-2 draw against El Salvador will do little to inspire confidence. For too long, the U.S. has been notorious for beating up on the CONCACAF minnows, then stumbling in front of a larger audience.
As in past encounters, Costa Rica will be no pushover, led by the likes of Melbourne Victory star Carlos Hernandez, who has punished the U.S. in the past.
A hostile crowd will likely be in attendance, hoping to see their beloved countrymen once again send the Americans packing after a defeat.
Not even halfway through the hexagonal, this is an important stretch for the U.S. A win here and in Chicago next week virtually punches their ticket to the 2010 World Cup. While a loss shouldn't trigger a massive panic, it would be encouraging to see a solid result on the road in a hostile environment.
The U.S. has broken camp and will be missing a couple of key players. Maurice Edu, in fine form with Glasgow Rangers, picked up a niggling ankle injury in his last game of the season and won't play.
Ricardo Clark of the Houston Dynamo has been called up in his place.
Frankie Hejduk, a solid choice at right back is also on the trainer's table, working hard to pass a fitness test to feature against Honduras.
I have little doubt that Bob Bradley will go with a more conservative approach to this one.
Brian Ching, everyone's least favorite striker, will most likely spearhead a 4-5-1 attack, with Donovan playing right behind him.
On the wings, DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey will be manning both flanks, despite the fact Beasley has featured rather infrequently for Rangers.
Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni should get the nod next to Michael Bradley in the holding midfielder spot.
As far as a backline goes, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra will be the starting centerbacks—it's the other two members of the defense that are up for grabs.
With Hejduk out, Jonathan Spector of West Ham could be in the starting lineup. On the left side, Heath Pearce and Jonathan Bornstein are possible selections.
Here's my take on what we might see Wednesday night:
Bornstein Onyewu Bocanegra Spector
Subs: DeMerit, Guzan, Klejstan, Adu, Alditore, Torres, Bornstein
We'll see how adventurous Bradley gets. It would be nice to see perhaps more experimenting with either Adu or Altidore in the starting lineup, though given Bradley's track record, it's quite a long shot.
All that aside, it is a very important test for the U.S. Costa Rica will likely be one of the three to automatically qualify from CONCACAF, so a win on the road would be a step in the right direction for this squad.
Prediction: Costa Rica 2-2 U.S.