Date: Friday, Sept. 1
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET, 5:30 p.m. CT, 3:30 p.m. PT, 10:30 AM UTC
Venue: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
Television: ESPN, Univision, UDN
Streaming: WatchESPN, Univision Now
All-time record: 15-15-6, Last Meeting: W 2-0 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal on July 22, 2017.
The United States Men’s National Team hits the stretch run of World Cup Qualifying with four matches left in the Hex, starting with a crucial qualifier tonight against Costa Rica at 6:30 ET at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
The USA has eight points through six games and sits in third while Costa Rica has 11 and sits in second. With Panama looming in fourth with seven points, the USA must close out the Hex properly to ensure a top-three finish and avoid a fourth place playoff with the fifth place team from Asia.
Bruce Arena has seemingly righted the ship since retaking the head coaching job in the winter with qualification now expected and a Gold Cup Title in the bag. However, the USA has not stamped its ticket to Russia yet. Despite beating Los Ticos last time out at the Gold Cup, the 4-0 defeat in San Jose in November still sits uneasy with the Americans and they will look to make a statement win tonight.
What to expect from Costa Rica
Costa Rica comes off of a decent performance at the Gold Cup, even if they would have liked to advance to the final, and is feeling comfortable in second place with a win over USA and two wins over Trinidad and Tobago. Even in the semifinal defeat to the Americans, the Costa Ricans played a rather even match through 70 minutes before Dempsey’s silky skill played Altidore in for the opener.
A win for Oscar Ramirez’s side would virtually lock up qualification with three matches to play, but he knows that he faces a historically tough task. Costa Rica has not won its last eight qualifiers on American soil and not since the CONCACAF adopted the Hex format in 1998.
Costa Rica will look to to stay off its heels and match the USA’s intensity as long as possible to avoid a classic CONCACAF road performance in America. Without Joel Campbell, finding chances may be a bit more difficult. Bryan Ruiz will be the creative force in the attacking third with San Jose Earthquakes striker Marco Urena more than capable of finding the back of the net up top.
MLS Fans should be familiar with Timbers midfielder David Guzman in the center of the park, center back Kendall Waston from Vancouver and outside Francisco Calvo from Minnesota, who all should start. Real Madrid star Keylor Navas will be hard to beat as usual in net.
Costa Rica will play an organized defensive game, scrap as much as they need to and look to break the USA on the counter on any chance it gets. There will likely be at least two ten minute stretches where the visitors dominate the play and force some quality chances.
What to expect from the USA
Arena will roll into September with the best players from his Gold Cup run and the addition of key contributors from Europe in teenage phenom Christian Pulisic, center back Geoff Cameron, midfielder Fabian Johnson and striker Bobby Wood. Despite the absences of John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin, this as good of a squad as it gets for the USA as it looks to cement its spot in Russia next summer.
Tim Howard will be first-choice in goal, again and he should see a backline of Villafana, Cameron, Gonzalez and Zusi in front of him from left to right. Eric Lichaj could also play that right back spot as the outside backs remain question marks in the next year. Zusi will have to be careful about being burned for pace, especially on the counter, but the USA should feel secure with its defense.
Michael Bradley will start in the center of the park with Darlington Nagbe likely on one wing and Christian Pulisic on the other. If Arena plays with just one striker in Altidore up top, Pulisic could play a No. 10 role with Union man Alejandro Bedoya on a wing and Kellyn Acosta pairing with Bradley. If Arena plays two strikers with Bobby Wood’s inclusion, either Acosta or Bedoya will drop out of the lineup. Paul Arriola is an outside shot for a start at winger.
Clint Dempsey, still one of the USA’s best players, remains a supersub off the bench and could be needed to change the match. If the USA struggles to create chances against a locked-in Costa Rican defense, Dempsey will be the guy, with Jordan Morris as another useful attacker off the bench.
Pulisic’s return to country should change the dynamic of the American side and give them what they need to break down Costa Rica, but if he is denied the ball and marked well, Nagbe and Bradley will have to step up.
What to expect
The USA will own the better possession, the better buildup and the better chances, but only slightly in a hard-fought affair. Costa Rica is good for two or three real chances a game and the American backline can’t be caught sleeping. It might take a while but someone in the USA side will find a breakthrough and Arena will shut up shop for a needed home win.
Prediction: USA 1-0.