National Writer: Charles Boehm

USMNT approach at Costa Rica "no different" with World Cup 2022 spot nearly clinched

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – It took them months, but the US men’s national team finally have the Bluetooth speaker they want.

Lille winger Tim Weah usually MCs the pregame music in the locker room, picking a selection of crowd-pleasing tunes ranging from old-school hip-hop to reggaeton “to keep the energy high” and “keep the guys energized,” in his words. But for much of the Concacaf Octagonal cycle, the squad has been disappointed with the modest sound pumped out by the incumbent equipment.

“Since I've been with the national team, we've had this tiny little Bose speaker and like, every camp we talk about, ‘we need to get a new speaker, we need to get a new speaker.’ Because when we come down to a place like this or we play in NFL stadiums and the locker rooms are quite big, you can't hear the music,” explained Inter Miami CF defender DeAndre Yedlin in a media availability on Tuesday, ahead of the USMNT’s clash with Costa Rica, their final match of 2022 World Cup qualifying.

“So finally this camp, I don't know why it took eight years or however long it took, but finally we got a nice speaker that we can play. So we're pretty excited about it, especially Tim. So yeah, we just be carrying it around everywhere.”

Qatar ticket all but punched

As businesslike as they remain, the Yanks are hoping they get to crank the volume up louder than ever on Wednesday night (9:05 pm ET | Paramount+, CBS Sports Network, Universo, Peacock), when they could celebrate successful qualification for Qatar and enjoy a positive conclusion to their long, intense Ocho road.

All it takes is a result that better than a six-goal loss to Los Ticos, who have never lost to the USMNT in a home qualifier but face a steep goal differential to rise from their current fourth place in the standings, which sends them on to an intercontinental playoff with Oceania’s champion later this year.

The Yanks, currently in second place, prefer to keep things simple.

“It's what you choose to put your focus on. And our focus is on winning this game,” said head coach Gregg Berhalter in his matchday-1 press conference. “We said at the start of the window, we had three games. And our focus was to try to win each one. And this is no different. So it's kind of easy when you have that mentality from the beginning.”

The visitors aim to end with a bang, not a whimper, and make some history at the end of World Cup qualifying as we know it, thanks to FIFA’s expansion to a 48-team event starting in 2026 when it comes to the US, Canada and Mexico.

“To win,” said Tyler Adams when asked how best to approach this unusual situation where only the most disastrous of losses could keep them out of Concacaf's three automatic qualification places. “I want to go into every game with the mindset that we're going to win. And we're in a position right now where, yeah, history sort of speaks where we can come to Costa Rica and get the first win in the qualification process for the national team. So for us, it's again, putting a checkmark next to something that no other team has done.”

Costa Rica history looms

Generation after generation of USMNTers have suffered misery in this bustling tropical city, first at hostile Estadio Saprissa and more recently at the much less intimate Estadio Nacional, to the tune of an 0W-9L-1D all-time record in WCQ visits. Berhalter lived it as a player, and at the start of the current qualifying window saluted the current Tico side’s dramatic comeback from a woeful start to the Ocho (5W-0L-1D run).

“You would think that when they moved to the National Stadium, that it would be easier to get results and it hasn't turned out like that,” Berhalter said last week. “I remember playing at Saprissa, and that was the most volatile place in Concacaf at the time. And it was just an absolute cauldron. And by the way, they also had a really good generation of players that had just been coming through. And so give them a ton of credit for getting back into this, right? Before last window, people were writing them off and now they’re right in the thick of it.”

Notably, Costa Rica’s massively important 1-0 home win over Canada last week was fueled by a Mark-Anthony Kaye red card, via a second yellow drawn by a theatrical fall by Johan Venegas after a seemingly innocuous bump. Los Ticos have shown a mastery of such dark arts over the years and such gamesmanship might well be the only plausible route to creating the conditions for the blowout that could nudge the hosts ahead of the USMNT or Mexico in the final Ocho standings.

“We can't go into this game being naive in any matters. But we've been clever up to this point. The group has handled many tricky situations very well,” said Adams. “We've learned a lot throughout how the refs are going to deal with certain situations, what they're going to call, what they're not going to call, what they're looking for. Also, obviously having VAR, you always need to be a little bit more clever. But we're not going into the game with the mindset that we're going to get a red card; you always want to avoid that.”

Yellow card conundrum?

What may ease the USMNT’s task more than anything is FIFA’s much-criticized disciplinary policy, which imposes a one-game ban on players who pick up a second yellow card in qualifying, no matter how many games apart.

Costa Rica have a whopping nine players – Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges, Joel Campbell, Francisco Calvo, Bryan Oviedo, Johan Venegas, Keysher Fuller, Jewison Bennette and Alonso Martínez – carrying yellow cards. Given the long odds of racking up six goals against the US, local reports suggest that manager Luis Fernando Suárez will field a less-than-full-strength lineup in order to protect them from being suspended for the intercontinental playoff.

“I think it's a dumb rule, honestly,” said Berhalter on Tuesday. “We go 14 rounds, a guy gets a yellow card in the first round and the 14th round, he sits out of their biggest game, it doesn't make sense. And I feel bad for either us or Costa Rica that are going to have to deal with that.

“In terms of their lineup, we're projecting that they're going to play their best lineup, that they're going to go for it, but it may change. I'm not sure exactly what they're going do. We have all their players identified on their roster, we've scouted all their players, we’ve scouted potential changes, and we go from there.”