PREVIEW: USA - COSTA RICA
The United States National Team hosts Costa Rica in the second game of the World Cup Qualifying hexagonal, in what head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has deemed a "must win" meeting.
Denver, Colorado will host only its second World Cup Qualifier, and the U.S. will be aiming for a repeat of its 2008 performance in the Mile High City that saw a 2-0 shutout of Guatemala.
The U.S. team has been beleaguered by scrutiny since reports of players' problems with Klinsmann surfaced this week, leading to tense reactions from Michael Bradley, and casually dismissive responses from the coach.
Regardless of what the locker room looks and is feeling like, the U.S. team is also facing intense scrutiny since an underwhelming performance led to a 2-1 loss on the road to Honduras to open the Hex, and questions have been raised about whether or not this team, with Klinsmann at he helm, has the gumption to qualify for Brazil at this point.
The concerns are likely too early, though they are indicative of the growing apprehension surrounding the team following a series of unimpressive performances over the past year and a half. Much of the apprehension comes from the consistent lack of wide players selected by Klinsmann for previous games, though the current roster to face Costa Rica and then travel to Mexico for Tuesday's showdown at the Azteca has plenty of width and attacking prowess, and could be the combination that finally allows the U.S. to break through its barrier of lackluster intensity.
Klinsmann has called in veteran winger DaMarcus Beasley, as well as Brek Shea and Graham Zusi, all of whom can stretch the width of the field and provide a spark in the attack, which has the highest performing American strikers this season in Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Clint Dempsey, and Herculez Gomez. Which combination to take the field is yet to be known, but Klinsmann's selection of Dempsey as captain after leaving Carlos Bocanegra off the roster indicates the Texan will reprise his role near the front of the attack, and other hints point to Altidore starting as well.
Beasley and Dempsey will be looking for their 98th and 93rd caps, respectively, but there is a stark contrast in experience displayed in defense.
Brad Guzan will be starting in goal in place of the injured Tim Howard, and standing in front of him will be a wall of inexperienced defenders led by Geoff Cameron. Aside from Cameron it's a toss up at this point as to who will take up the other positions around him, but there is no combination of dedicated defenders that will yield more than 51 caps combined, and barely over a dozen World Cup Qualifying appearances.
Costa Rica comes into the game sitting on one point after an opening round tie with Panama, and though historically they have been found on the losing side in the United States, their last visit yielded positive results as they took home a 1-0 victory in a 2011 friendly.
There were reports that Alvaro Saborio could miss the game due to injury, but Real Salt Lake dismissed those reports saying that he was at full health. The Ticos scored the second most goals in Round 3, behind Mexico, and they enter with the game with a dangerous attack of Saborio, Bryan Ruiz, Jairo Arrieta, and 20-year old Joel Campbell who has scored seven goals in his first 20 games with the national team, including one in a 2-2 friendly tie with Spain.
The game begins at 10:00pm EST, and the weather forecast is calling for 22 degrees and a 90% chance of snow.