Michael Umana and Costa Rica are grouped with the U.S., Canada and Cuba.

Umaña happy to face U.S. team

Costa Rican central defender Michael Umaña is back with the Los Angeles Galaxy this week to prepare for his first MLS campaign, but he's still got the ticos on his mind.

CONCACAF announced the groups for the 2005 Gold Cup Wednesday, and Umaña's Costa Rica side has been drawn into a group that includes the United States, Canada and Cuba. Umaña is eager to face the USA on their home turf. Costa Rica hasn't met the U.S. since 2003, when the ticos fell 3-2 in Miami. The U.S. has won the last two meetings between the teams, and Costa Rica hasn't beaten the USA on U.S. soil since 1995.

This year, Costa Rica will have three chances to defeat their North American foes. The two meet in Salt Lake City on June 4 in a World Cup qualifier, then face off in the first round of the Gold Cup in Foxborough, Mass., on July 12 and meet in another World Cup qualifier in San Jose, Costa Rica, on Oct. 8.

"It will be important for us to play the United States in their own country; they have proven themselves to be a very good national team. So have the other teams in our [Gold Cup] group," Umaña said. "We hope to use this experience as a way to measure the growth of our national team and to play well at the same time."

Though Umaña has his sights set on beating the U.S., he's well aware of the danger of facing Canada and Cuba. Costa Rica squeaked by Cuba on away goals in a first round World Cup qualifying matchup last June, and the ticos have never beaten Canada in Gold Cup competition.

"Each of the opponents is going to be a difficult one," he said. "In this day and age, there is very little that separates teams from one another."

After an up-and-down 2004, Costa Rica has gotten off to a good start in 2005. Though they fell to Mexico in the first match of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Feb. 9, the side cruised through UNCAF Nations Cup, the Gold Cup qualifying tournament for Central America. The ticos picked apart Guatemala 4-0 in the semifinals before squeezing past Honduras on penalty kicks in the final, where Umaña provided the winning kick. Such success is heartening for Umaña, and a first Gold Cup title would be a welcome reward for his nation's progress, but the ultimate goal is to advance to a second consecutive and third overall FIFA World Cup.

"Our football is continuing to grow. But, we must work on it day by day; that is the nature of our sport," Umaña said. "We are looking forward to earning a trip to the World Cup in 2006. This tournament is just one step on that path."

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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