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U.S. men

World Cup entry would be at hand with win over inhospitable host Costa Rica.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Thursday, September 5, 2013) -- United States striker Jozy Altidore’s participation is questionable in tomorrow night’s CONCACAF World Cup Final-Round Qualiying match against host Costa Rica at Estadio Nacional in San José.

The 10 p.m. (ET) game will be televised by beIN Sports.

U.S. men’s coach Jürgen Klinsmann termed Altidore, who injured his left hamstring training with his English Premier League club Sunderland, as “day-to-day.” Altidore is with the Americans in Costa Rica, but he has not been practicing at full speed. Reportedly, Altidore has been limited to jogging around the periphery of practice.

Altidore has scored goals in the last five U.S. outings, a program record, while helping the Americans stretch their all-time best winning streak to 12. “We take it day by day,” Klinsmann told the media at today’s training. “Today will be another big step.”

If Altidore can’t go, Eddie Johnson would likely move up front from the midfield or, possibly, newcomer Aron Jóhannsson, an Icelandic-American, who was impressive off the bench in his debut with his newly-found national team’s 4-3 victory at Bosnia and Herzegovina, might get the call. Jóhannsson, who became eligible in mid-August to represent the U.S., played in Iceland's youth national program.

“He had limited action (against the Bosnians), but I think you could see his confidence in the box, trying to make people miss, taking that extra touch trying to get a shot off,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard told reporters yesterday. “His link-up play was really good, too. I think there were a few times in the Bosnia game where he pulled off and came a little bit deeper, got the ball and connected the play.

“Again, (he has) a ton of confidence. I don’t know where they get it from. I didn’t have that when I was a kid.”

The U.S. has eight of its 23 roster players on yellow cards -- Altidore and fellow forward Clint Dempsey; midfielders Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones, defenders Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron, and goalkeeper Tim Howard. Being issued a second yellow card against Costa Rica would mean a one-game suspension Tuesday when the U.S. hosts arch-rival Mexico in a qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.

Klinsmann is not worrying about the cards -- for now. He knows defeating Costa Rica -- something the Americans have never done, going 0-7-1 in road qualifiers against the Ticos -- would virtually secure the U.S.’s berth in the 2016 World Cup in Brazil.

“The Costa Rica game in San Jose is the biggest game in 2013 for all of us because we want to win there," Klinsmann said on the U.S. Soccer Federation web site. “We want to get three points. We want to qualify as soon as possible for the World Cup in Brazil. We want to get the first-ever three points in World Cup qualifying in Costa Rica. It’s going to be huge.

“We have to be extremely disciplined with eight. . . players being on yellow cards to prepare also for the game against Mexico in Columbus, so going into Costa Rica, we really need to be on top of our game. We need to be very focused and sharp and make it happen. (But), the next game is the most important one, which is the Costa Rica game. And then, only after that game, do we adjust and get ready for Mexico.”

Three of the six nations in the final hexagonal qualify for the World Cup. The fourth-place finisher will play a two-game series against New Zealand for another berth. With four games remaining, the U.S is in first at 4-1-1 with 13 points, followed by Costa Rica (3-1-2, 11 points), Mexico (1-0-5, 8), Honduras (2-3-1, 7), Panama (1-2-3, 6) and Jamaica (0-4-2, 2).

With a victory tomorrow, the U.S. would have 16, a total that would clinch or put the Americans on the cusp of securing its spot in a seventh consecutive World Cup. In qualifying for the last World Cup, Honduras and Costa Rica tied for third at 5-1-4 with 16 points in the CONCACAF final round. With better goal differential, Honduras advanced to the World Cup, while Costa Rica moved into a playoff, which it lost to Uruguay.

In the previous three cycles of qualifying, 16 points would have meant finishing in the top three in the final hexagonal and automatically moving on to the World Cup.

The U.S. will face a highly motivated opponent in Costa Rica. On March 22, the U.S. edged the Ticos 1-0 in a qualifier played in a substantial snowstorm in Commerce, Colo. Costa Rica protested, saying the conditions were not proper, but CONCACAF denied the request for a replay.

Apparently, the Costa Ricans carry a grudge. When the Americans landed yesterday in San José yesterday, rather than being escorted directly to their bus, they were paraded through the airport past a hostile, chanting crowd. The American’s bus was pelted with eggs and other matter.

The Costa Rican federation provided the U.S. with the names of three possible practice fields, all of which were unavailable. The Americans were left to find one themselves. While it is customary for the host to provide its guest with soccer balls, it didn’t. Fortunately, the U.S. was well supplied with the necessity by Nike.

Costa Rican cab drivers are promising a work action Friday to slow down the Americans’ bus on its drive to Estadio Nacional.

The Americans will surely be happy to play at the new, sterile Estadio Nacional instead of Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá. a hellhole of a venue for visiting teams, especially the U.S. and Mexico. Saprissa, nicknamed the Monster’s Cave, is a well-worn venue and is surrounded by steep, concrete stands where crazed fans hover over the field, some within arms-length of the players, and routinely shower opponents taking throw-ins or corner kicks with all manner of objects, including bags of urine, batteries and coins.

Costa Rica was unable to bring Saprissa up to the standards required by world governing body FIFA. The pitch at the sterile, two-year-old Nacional is ringed by a track, putting fans at some distance from the players.


The U.S. roster:

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton, England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake, Major League Soccer).

Defenders (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla FC, Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City, MLS), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla FC, Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg, Germany) .

Midfielders (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake. MLS), Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes, France), Michael Bradley (AS Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg BK, Norway), Fabian Johnson (TSG Hoffenheim, Germany), Jermaine Jones (FC Schalke, Germany), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City, MLS).

Forwards (5): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland, England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle, MLS), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles, MLS), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands), Eddie Johnson (Seattle, MLS).


Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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