USA vs Costa Rica
July 16, 2013, 8 pm ET
Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn.
Watch on FOX Soccer | Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com
The US national team meets its first real test of the 2013 Gold Cup a mile east of the Connecticut River on Tuesday evening, as they battle Costa Rica at Rentschler Field in the Group C decider.
As expected, both of these CONCACAF powerhouses booked six points against their small-fry counterparts Cuba and Belize – though Costa Rica made heavy work of their task against the Jaguars in this past Saturday's 1-0 win – and have already booked their spot in the quarterfinals.
But their head-to-head clash will determine who meets the sterner test in the knockout stages, with the Group C runner-up likely to face Group B leader Honduras, while Group C's winner will meet one of the other groups' third-place finishers. With a superior goal differential, the USA have the advantage as they require only a draw to keep hold of the top spot.
These teams last met in March, a memorable World Cup qualifier which took place amidst a late-spring snowstorm at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. The home side won 1-0 in near-whiteout conditions, and Costa Rica likely still nurse a grudge about the affair, given that they unsuccessfully petitioned CONCACAF officials to postpone and reschedule it both during and after the match.
The overall series between these rivals presently stands dead-even at 12-12-6, though the Yanks are undefeated against los Ticos (5-0-1) in Gold Cup play
From the very day the tournament schedule was confirmed, this is the matchup coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his men have targeted as their main challenge – the Yanks head coach called it “the first real benchmark for us” after this past Saturday's win over Cuba in Sandy, Utah.
And it's hard to imagine how the US could be in any better shape for it than they are at the moment. With 16 goals in their last three games, the Stars and Stripes attack is humming along nicely, and Klinsmann's squad rotation has provided minutes for many of his players while avoiding any yellow cards which might put important contributors at risk of suspension via caution accumulation.
But it also means that he faces more knotty decisions about his starting 11, which has been in constant flux this month. The USMNT changed nearly their entire backline and tweaked the midfield significantly from Belize to Cuba, with Brek Shea's ineffectiveness on the left wing and questions about Stuart Holden's ideal role leaving lingering doubts about the best lineup at Klinsmann's disposal.
COSTA RICA OUTLOOK
Much like the USA, coach Jorge Luis Pinto and his men have done what was required against Group C's lesser lights and now must gear up for a much stiffer challenge. Despite their nation's one-sided history against the Yanks in Gold Cup play, they have reason for optimism.
Los Ticos are in good shape to book a berth in next summer's World Cup, running second behind the USA in the CONCACAF Hexagonal round thus far, and this month they have found their feet despite the absence of several first-choice regulars on a well-deserved summer break. Rodney Wallace, Jairo Arrieta, Roy Miller and Álvaro Saborío have provided important contributions and will be quite familiar with their MLS counterparts in the USMNT.
But the onus is now on their front line to provide more – much more – incisiveness around goal than they did against Belize.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Joe Corona
The Club Tijuana standout has grasped the long-awaited opportunity presented to him in this tournament, notching his first US goal and assist and showcasing his diverse skills set throughout multiple midfield assignments. He would still appear to have more room for improvement, however, and Tuesday's tougher opposition will provide a useful barometer for his growth at the international level.
COSTA RICA – Jairo Arrieta
The striker's had an up-and-down time in MLS since joining the Columbus Crew last year, but he's gone the full 90 minutes in both of los Ticos' Gold Cup matches thus far and notched a goal in their victory over Cuba. Hard-working and opportunistic, Arrieta's ability to combine with his teammates and drag US defenders out of position in and around the penalty box will be key to Costa Rica's chances in Connecticut – and of course, he'll have plenty of motivation against the Americans he faces on a week-to-week basis in league play.
GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting CP/Portugal), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla/Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg/Germany)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsingborg/Sweden), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Stuart Holden (Bolton/England), Brek Shea (Stoke City/England), Jose Torres (Tigres UANL/Mexico)
FORWARDS: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
GOALKEEPERS: Leonel Moreira (Herediano/Costa Rica), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense/Costa Rica), Luis Torres (Cartaginés/Costa Rica)
DEFENDERS: Junior Díaz (Mainz 05/Germany), Giancarlo González (Vålerenga/Norway), Carlos Johnson (Cartaginés/Costa Rica), Juan Diego Madrigal (Saprissa/Costa Rica), Christopher Meneses (Norrköping/Sweden), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls), Michael Umaña (Saprissa/Costa Rica), Kendall Watson (Saprissa/Costa Rica)
MIDFIELDERS: Michael Barrantes (Aalesund/Norway), Celso Borges (AIK/Sweden), Mauricio Castillo (Saprissa/Costa Rica), Kenny Cunningham (The Strongest/Bolivia), Esteban Granados (Herediano/Costa Rica), Ariel Rodríguez (Alajuelense/Costa Rica), Osvaldo Rodriguez (Santos de Guápiles/Costa Rica), Yeltsin Tejeda (Saprissa/Costa Rica), Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers)
FORWARDS: Jairo Arrieta (Columbus Crew), Yendrick Ruiz (Herediano/Costa Rica), Álvaro Saborío (Real Salt Lake)