SANDY, Utah – The fun and games are over for the United States.
Although they certainly put in their work in their two Gold Cup openers, a 6-1 win over Belize followed by Saturdays’s 4-1 win over Cuba, they readily admitted after their latest win that their first real test will come at the hands of their final opponents in Group C, Costa Rica.
“We are very well aware of Costa Rica and [they’re] the first real benchmark for us,” Klinsmann told reporters in his postgame press conference after the win over Cuba. “Everybody has respect for Belize and Cuba, but the benchmark for us starts with Costa Rica.
“We need now where we’re eye-to-eye with the opponents, where we know it’s going to go down to the wire and therefore we’re really looking forward to that match.”
Though the two teams will enter the game with six points apiece from their first two matches, the USA’s superior goal differential (+8 compared to Costa Rica’s +4), means only a Costa Rica win will see them wrest the top spot away.
Still, against a side as dangerous as Costa Rica, who boast MLS-based stars like Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio and Columbus striker Jairo Arrieta, the US know they must do better than the sluggish first half performance they showed against Cuba on Saturday if they are to avoid a morale-damaging loss heading into the quarterfinals.
“I think they’re a tough team,” US midfielder Joe Corona told reporters when asked about Costa Rica. “We have to come out like we did today in the second half, with that mentality, try to move the ball fast and try to score the chances we have up top.”
Though the United States and Costa Rica are deadlocked at 12-12-6 in their overall series, the US hold the upper hand in Gold Cup play, unbeaten with a 5-0-1 record. More recently, they beat their Central American opponents 1-0 in a snow-filled World Cup qualifier in Denver, a result in conditions that drew plenty of ire from the Costa Ricans, not to mention leaving a likely chip on their shoulders.
“I think it’s a team that…we’ve probably been on their list since that last qualifier, so we have to be ready,” US goalkeeper Nick Rimando told reporters on Saturday. “They’re definitely not going to come out and pack the back. They’re going to want to play.”
And if the game comes down to Rimando having to stop RSL teammate Saborio from the penalty spot?
“I hope not,” he joked.