The march to Russia picks back up for the USA men’s team this week with the USA squaring off against Costa Rica. We have everything you need to know about the match, and what it means as the US seeks to qualify for next summer’s World Cup.
When: Friday, September 1st at 4:30 pm Mountain Time.
Where: Red Bull Arena located in Harrison, New Jersey.
How to watch: ESPN, Univision, and UDN
Qualification Outlook: The US got off to a rocky start in qualifying, losing to Mexico at home in match day 1, and losing to Costa Rica away in match day 2. Since then the US has clawed its way back into an automatic qualifying position by going 2-0-2, including a massive 1-1 draw in the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Now, with only 4 games to go the US controls its own fate, and if they can win against Costa Rica they will hop over Costa Rica from 3rd to 2nd place behind only Mexico. Keep in mind that the top 3 teams out of 6 will automatically qualify, with the 4th facing a “win and get in” playoff against Oceania Soccer Federation.
Currently the US has a 92% chance of qualifying according to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index. With a win that climbs to a 96% chance of qualification and a loss would drop them down to an 80% chance.
Why the US will win: Since the dismal of Jurgen Klinsmann following the loss to none other than Costa Rica back on match day 2, the US has gone undefeated since. They are on an impressive 14 game unbeaten streak at the moment.
Bruce Arena quickly turned the program around, infusing it with new purpose and discipline. The US is only one month removed from their July 26th Gold Cup victory over Jamaica. This team is full of confidence and they are playing great soccer at the moment.
Costa Rica has only beaten the US national team on our home soil once in 9 matches. That victory happened clear back on May 31st, 1985. I was one.
Why the US will lose:
Costa Rica faces their toughest two game stretch of qualification over the next week an a half. They travel to the US and then play Mexico at home. Mexico has been red hot all through qualification and have yet to register a loss. Costa Rica cannot afford to drop both matches. They will be desperate to leave New Jersey with at least a point.
The Ticos play a 5 man backline traditionally and look to beat teams on the counter-attack. Costa Rica will be completely content to sit back with 9 players behind the ball all night and hope to catch the US pushed too high or losing focus.
The US is also missing arguably its two best defenders with both John Brooks and Deandre Yedlin out with injuries.
Costa Rica’s player to watch: Bryan Ruiz has been a long time may-stay for the Costa Rican side. He has featured for his national side in three Gold Cups and one World Cup, where he propelled the Ticos clear to the quarterfinals before losing to the Netherlands.
Ruiz is the Costa Rican equivalent of our own Michael Bradley, his national team will pull from his energy throughout the match and will look to him to set the tempo.
At 32 years old, Ruiz has recently seen his playing time diminish with his Portuguese club side Sporting CP. Beware, that does not mean he isn’t capable of moments of magic that could punish a depleted US defense.
Happy birthday, Bryan Ruiz - thank you for this lovely, lovely goal. pic.twitter.com/djIptBIlML— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) August 18, 2017
USA’s player to watch: Michael Bradley is coming of a short but stellar Gold Cup where he received the Ballon d’Or for best player of the tournament. Similar to Ruiz, he is the beating heart of the US midfield and will have a particularly challenging task against Costa Rica.
You can count on Costa Rica bunkering in for long stretches of this game, waiting patiently for the chance to break out on the counter. Because of this, Bradley will be tasked with a number of responsibilities if the US is to get all 3 points. He will be pushing farther up the field to help give more offensive numbers to the US. He will be looking to play long balls up the field to his forwards before Costa Rica can get numbers behind the ball. And lastly, he will have to be positionally aware enough to shield his back four if and when the Ticos do breakout on the counter. He will have to very disruptive in order to shut down those fast counter-attacks, win the ball back, and recycle back up to the offense before the Ticos can bunker in again.
It will be a fun game of cat and mouse that Bradley will be playing all night long.
Our prediction: The US is hungry for revenge after getting throttled 4-0 down in Costa Rica on November 15th and Costa Rica struggles to win here on US soil. We predict the US walking away with a 2-1 victory and all 3 points.