CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Tuesday, July 16, 2013
The U.S. National Team rides a seven game winning streak into East Hartford, Connecticut to face Costa Rica in the Gold Cup's toughest game so far.
After thorough defeats of Belize and Cuba, Jurgen Klinsmann's team looks to build on their 10 goal performance through the first two games by adding another notch to the win column in the final game of group play.
Already secured for the knockout round, the U.S. will try to win the group against the Ticos. Tied in points but ahead on goal differential, a tie gives the group win to the U.S. just the same as an outright victory, and a theoretically easier quarter-final opponent in a Group A's third-place Martinique. A loss has them finish in second place, with a looming match against Honduras.
The game in Connecticut completes the team's cross-country group stage trek, and presents its own difficulties unique to the region at this particular time. It is hot and humid in the Northeast, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees and not cooling down very dramatically at night.
While the U.S. has been firing on all cylinders, Costa Rica has had a little tougher time getting through the group. A 1-0 victory over Belize, from an own-goal no less, stands in stark juxtaposition to the dominating performance that the U.S. used to secure an easy win. Likewise, it took Costa Rica until the second half to unlock Cuba in a particularly dull affair. However, the Ticos are always dangerous when playing the U.S., and they will be looking to avenge their last meeting, the Snowpocalypse in Denver.
Chris Wondolowski has been an offensive machine for Klinsmann's team, leading all scorers with five goals after two games, but he will face a much sterner test against the Costa Rican defense if he sees playing time. Wondolowski, an efficient, opportunistic goal-scorer, has scored in three straight games for the U.S., his only goals for the National Team. If Wondolowski wants to continue to be considered for World Cup Qualifying duty, he needs to show that he can produce against the higher caliber teams that the U.S. will be facing from here on out.
Regardless of Wondolowski's goals, the talk of the tournament for the U.S. team has been the returns of Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan, both producing well and helping to lead the team into the quarters. With Holden receiving more playing time with each game back, his meeting with Costa Rica this evening could be the litmus test that tells us where he truly stands in his long road back.
Despite not clicking very well on offense against teams that they should be picking apart, Costa Rica sports an experienced, dangerous set of attacking pieces that will look to take advantage of some of the lapses in communication and concentration that have been evident in the U.S. defense, and likely should have been punished more for against better teams.
Tonight's game begins at 8:00pm EST, with kickoff weather looking like clear skies and a heat index of 92.