SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – The United States have never won in Costa Rica. Not a World Cup qualifier. Not a friendly. Not even a Sunday afternoon kickabout.
But you’d never know it based on the rhetoric coming out of the US camp ahead of Friday’s Hexagonal match against the Ticos (10 pm ET, beIN Sport).
This time around, with a record 12 straight victories under their belts, the Americans expect to take points – plural – on Costa Rican soil for the first time in a match pitting CONCACAF’s top two teams heading into the final stages of qualifying.
“I think there is a sense – one because of where we are in the standing and two because of the form that we’ve been on – that it’s not cocky but it’s very confident that we’re going to do well on Friday and that it’s going to look different than any other qualifier has ever looked here for the US,” Landon Donovan told reporters on Thursday.
“I think we go into it with that attitude. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But we’re going to go in with the mentality and the attitude that we want to win this game.”
That mindset is certainly buoyed by the fact that the US already has a pair of 1-0 wins against Costa Rica this calendar year – a much-disputed World Cup qualifying victory in March that in the snow in Denver as well as a group-stage triumph in this summer’s Gold Cup.
In each of those matches, Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto opted to field a five-man backline designed to absorb pressure and set up a counterattack spearheaded by Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio. And while Pinto could opt for similar tactics this time around, blatantly conservative play from the hosts seems unlikely considering the match is their second-to-last at home in the Hex.
“My guess is that they’re not going to play that way at home in front of their crowd,” Donovan said. “If they do, they’ll probably get booed off the pitch.”
But they’ll also play into the Americans’ hands should Pinto opt to open the game up, allowing the Americans the space they crave in thefinal third and plenty of opportunities to win the ball back in dangerous positions.
One thing is certain, though, it won’t be Jurgen Klinsmann’s side that sits back. Backed by his players, he was steadfast in his dedication to the US’ possession-based style that’s been a work in progress since the German took the job a little more than two years ago.
“If you sit back against a team like that and they hit the long balls into Saborio and Bryan Ruiz is sniffing around and [Michael Barrantes] and all these guys, then you have found more problems,” Klinsmann said. “We will play our game. We will try to take our game to them and see what they want to do with that. We have the confidence to do that away from home.”
Of course, this time around away from home doesn’t mean Estadio Saprissa, a welcome development for the Americans and perhaps a detriment for the Costa Ricans, who’ve been accustomed to using the region’s second-most intimidating venue to sap the kind of confidence that seems to be coursing through current visitors.
Instead, the match will be played at Estadio Nacional, which holds more fans but lacks the dreadful surface and cramped nature of its predecessor, giving the US hope that this may be the trip they finally return home with three points.
“There’s a reason why they’ve played at Saprissa all these years, right?” Donovan said. “They know that they have a big advantage there over any team for a lot of reasons. Psychologically, I think that helps us and probably hurts them. That only matters if we play on Friday night and you show up and make it an advantage.”