Thousands of US national team fans are gearing up for the Sept. 10 duel with Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium, a fixture which has become one of the biggest events on the US soccer calendar.
But not Jurgen Klinsmann.
“I don't want the players to think – not even one second – about Mexico in Columbus,” declared the USMNT head coach in a media conference call to discuss his roster announcements for next month's World Cup qualifiers on Thursday.
As fierce as his adopted country's border rivalry may be with El Tri, Klinsmann wants his team entirely focused on earning their first-ever road qualifying victory against Costa Rica when they visit Estadio Nacional in San José next Friday, an occasion he called his program's “biggest game in the year 2013."
With an 0-7-1 all-time record in qualifiers, the US have a nightmarish history in the Central American nation. Klinsmann – for now, at least – seems to view changing that as a higher priority than inflicting further damage on Mexico a few days later, even as a berth in next summer's World Cup remains the top concern.
“This one could put us absolutely in the driver's seat for Brazil,” he noted. “Two, we want to set the tone in CONCACAF. We won the Gold Cup...We sent out some very strong signals to, if it's to Mexico, if it's to Costa Rica or Panama or other nations, and I think if we are able to get three points in San José next Friday, we're almost there. We're almost in Brazil.”
The USMNT can confirm their advancement to the World Cup with four points from next month's two matches, and Klinsmann's squad will carry a long list of yellow-card holders to San José, with eight players – including influential starters such as captain Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley – in danger of being suspended for the Mexico match should they receive cautions against Los Ticos.
But the German doesn't sound particularly open to tweaking his personnel choices accordingly.
“You just need to have it in the back of your mind, not doing anything stupid out there. Because we want to get everybody into the Mexico game as well,” Klinsmann said. “But if there is a situation where you have do a tactical foul in order to help your backline or whatever, then it happens.
“But overall I just think that the guys need to be very disciplined and focused – maybe after scoring not taking the jersey off and stuff like that. So we hope to get through that game, but by no means are we going to hold back.”