(Tuesday, June 2, 2009) -- After a week of injury and absences, the United States men visit Costa Rica Wednesday night, the first of two important CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers the Americans will play this week.
In the final, six-nation round robin for the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, the U.S. faces Costa Rica at Estadio Saprissa in San Jose tomorrow night at 10 p.m. (ET), a match televised on ESPN2 and Spanish-language Galavision.
On Saturday, the U.S. will be in Chicago to host Honduras at Soldier Field, an 8 p.m. start to be broadcast by ESPN and Galavision.
Three games into the 10-match final round, the U.S. is in first place at 2-0-1 with seven points, having defeated Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago at home, and tied El Salvador on the road. Costa Rica in next at 2-1 with six points, followed by Honduras (1-1-1, 4 points), Mexico (1-2, 3), El Salvador (0-2-1, 2) and T&T (0-1-2, 2).
The top three finishers qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa while the fourth-place team faces the No. 5 country from South America in a playoff for another berth.
Things are anything but settled for the Americans, particularly on the flanks of the back-line. Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra are solid in the two central spots, but Frankie Hejduk, slated to play the right side, was ruled out of the Costa Rica contest yesterday with a strained groin. He was a replacement for the normal starter, Steve Cherundolo, who is still recovering from hip surgery last month.
Defender Jonathan Spector has recovered from last June's hip surgery and returned to West Ham United's starting lineup in England. He could be a candidate for the right-back slot, as might Marvell Wynne. Jonathan Bornstein could get a shot on the left..
The left side also presents a question mark. Heath Pearce, who has seen considerable action on the left side, was dropped from his second-division German squad -- Hansa Rostock II -- to its reserve team after a coaching change and his match fitness has suffered. In the last qualifier, he was replaced by DaMarcus Baesley, who usually is found in the midfield.
Beasley also lost his club job, losing his spot with Glasgow Rangers, a situation that has him looking for another job, possibly in Germany. Maurice Edu, a starting Rangers midfielder, has remained in Scotland to reevaluate his knee injury suffered in the final league match against Dundee. The problem could be serious and keep him out of Saturday's qualifier against Honduras and the upcoming Confederations Cup in South Africa.
Jozy Altidore, the forward who scored all three goals against T&T in the last qualifier, has not played a club game since being loaned in January from Villarreal of the Spain's Primera División to Xerez. Now, he is just coming back from toe surgery on both feet last month.
Furthermore, despite holding a training camp in Miami, Fla., since last Tuesday, Bradley took his team to San Jose without holding a practice with his full squad. Major League Soccer players remained with their clubs through their weekend matches, while others, such as goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder José Francisco Torres, and defender Danny Califf had important commitments with their foreign teams.
From a 24-player roster, Bradley had only 12 at his final practice yesterday before departing for Costa Rica. The Costa Rica match was supposed to be played June 10, a week later, but had to be moved because the U.S. had to be in South Africa June 10 for the Confederations Cup.
Estadio Saprissa is one of the most difficult places for the U.S. to play over the years, not only because of a wildly hostile crowd that sits very close to the field, but because fans are prone to throw things at opposing players. The capacity of 23,112 is said to be sold-out.
The U.S. is 11-10-5 (.519) all-time against Costa Rica, but has never won on the road and holds a 0-6-1 record in qualifying in Costa Rica. In their last 10 meetings, the Americans hold a 5-3-2 advantage against the Ticos, with all five wins coming in the U.S. and the three losses coming in San Jose.
"Costa Rica has had great success at Saprissa," Bradley said. "It's loud and (the Ticos) are very comfortable there. They have great confidence there. And certainly we are aware that we have never won there. So when we look at different challenges, talk about things that we still want to achieve, this is a good example."
Costa Rica coach Rodrigo Kenton team has played well so far in qualifying, losing only to Mexico at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
Kenton will have a number of players who compete on foreign clubs, including strikers Alvaro Saborio (FC Sion, Switzerland) and Bryan Ruiz (Gent, Belgium); defenders Junior Diaz (Wisla Kracow, Poland) and Gonzalo Segares (Chicago Fire, MLS), midfielders Cristian Bolanos (Start, Denmark), Celso Borges (Fredrikstad, Denmark) and Carlos Hernandez (Melbourne Victory, Australia).
"As usual, we hold optimistic expectations," Kenton said.