World Cup Qualifier: USA vs. Costa Rica Preview and Pick

USA at Costa Rica 10 PM ET Wednesday June 3, 2009 on ESPN and Galavision
By Jason Green at

Tonight the USA heads south to play Costa Rica, the “Ticos”, in the first game of the CONCACAF final round of qualifying for the World Cup. The game will be held at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in San Jose Costa Rica.

The US has not played in over 2 months and both teams begin their big summer schedule in order to qualify for the World Cup next summer in South Africa. After 3 games the USA is the leader in the 6-team group with 7 points, but Costa Rica is right on their tails in 2nd place with 6 points. Costa Rica has not lost to the Americans in World Cup qualifying games all time at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa (5-0-1).

Both teams are in good shape, as each has their World Cup destiny in their hand. Honduras is in 3rd place in the group with 4 points and Mexico, which has been a major disappointment, is in 4th place with only 3 points. Trinidad & Tobago and El Salvador are at the bottom of the table with 2 points apiece. There are 3 teams that will qualify for the World Cup.

Costa Rica are the slight favorites in this home match posted at 2.25 and the visiting Americans posted at 2.75 with a draw at 3.20.

USA WC Qualifying Recent Form:

4/1/2009 USA 3 Trinidad and Tobago 0
3/29/2009 El Salvador 2 USA 2
2/11/2009 USA 2 Mexico 0

Costa Rica WC Qualifying Recent Form:

4/1/2009 Costa Rica 1 El Salvador 0
3/29/2009 Mexico 2 Costa Rica 0
2/11/2009 Costa Rica 2 Honduras 0

For the USA Jozy Altidore may not play in the match due to injury and Frankie Hejduk has been ruled out with an injured groin. Costa Rica is relatively healthy for this big match.

The problems for the Americans in this match will be the left side of their defense. There are 3 players that are competing to start at left back in DaMarcus Beasley, Jonathan Bornstein, and Heather Pearce. Beasley has an inside track on the position after starting there is the last match vs. Trinidad and Tobago, but he does not have a lot of experience and that may be worrisome.

The Americans may slide back on D, as they would be happy with a tie in this match and then go all out to take 3 points against Honduras this Saturday, which would pretty much punch their ticket to South Africa.

The Ticos attacking young duo of Celso Borges and Brian Ruiz will test the American’s defense often. Ruiz is the leading scorer for the Ticos with 4 goals in the group stage. US and starting Everton G Tim Howard will have to have a good game to keep Ruiz and Borges from finding the back of the net.

Even a tie may be difficult for the American’s as Estadio Ricardo Saprissa is one of the hardest places in the Southern Hemisphere to play. The fans are rabid and F Landon Donovan stated about the venue, “I’ve never took part in any game, anywhere in the world, where you can feel so much passion and pressure.”

Both teams play a physical style of football and because of it the American may rest key players in order to avoid injury. However, the Ticos’ defense will have to worry about US young striker Jozy Altidore, who scored a hat trick against Trinidad and Tobago in the American’s last WC qualifying match, and stalwart Landon Donovan, who is the all-time leading scorer for the US.

New Costa Rica Rodrigo Kenton has guided the Ticos to be the best team in Central America. Even though they have not made much noise in the World Cup tournament they are gunning for their 3rd straight World Cup berth.

Costa Rica is a very young team, as they only have 2 players from the starting 11 in the last World Cup in Germany. However, the leader of the Ticos is 34-year-old midfielder Walter Centeno.

The Ticos defense has not allowed a goal in this round of qualifying at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa.

Jason’s Pick: Even though this is a big match I think US coach Bob Bradley will rest some key players. It will be much easier for the US to beat Honduras on Saturday full strength then Costa Rica in San Jose tonight. The Ticos are solid on offense and I see them scoring at least 1 goal tonight, but I think the final score will be 2-0, as Costa Rica will take the points league in this group.