The U.S. Soccer team is hoping to qualify for next year's World Cup finals in Brazil at the expense of rival Mexico, as the two teams play one another late Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.
The game is actually more critical for Mexico, which suffered a rare home loss last Friday to Honduras (2-1) and sits surprisingly in fourth place in the North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) qualifying zone with only eight points after seven of 10 matches.
Costa Rica took over first place with 14 points after a 3-1 victory Friday over the visiting United States, which has 13 points. Honduras is third with 10 points. Panama is fifth with seven and Jamaica is last with three.
The past three home World Cup qualifiers against Mexico have been held in Columbus and the United States has posted 2-0 wins in each one. If the Americans win this contest and Honduras scores a home win or draw against Panama, the United States will clinch a 2014 World Cup berth.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard expects a hard-fought game against their big rivals.
"I think when it comes to this game, we are fearful of what Mexico brings. They are a tough team. You know, no matter what anyone says of how they are playing at the moment or what they are going through, it does not matter. They are going to be an incredible team, a heck of an opponent to play against. It is going to take everything for us to beat them, but we feel like if we bring our "A" game, we will do that," said Howard.
Mexico will be guided by newly installed coach Luis Fernando Tena. He was serving as assistant coach until José Manuel de la Torre was fired after Friday's loss to Honduras. It was only the second time ever Mexico had lost a home World Cup qualifying match.
Jamaica hosts Costa Rica in Tuesday night's other regional World Cup qualifier.
The top three teams after 10 group matches, to be completed by mid-October, earn places in next year's World Cup. The fourth place finisher will have a home-and-away playoff against the Oceania Zone winner for a trip to Brazil.