The U.S. men's soccer team plays Costa Rica while unbeaten Mexico visits Guatemala and Panama plays Trinidad and Tobago Saturday in North, Central American and Caribbean regional qualifying matches. The U.S. team is hoping to keep alive its 23-match home winning streak against regional oponents and strengthen its chances of reaching the World Cup in Germany.
Saturday's match will be played in Salt Lake City, Utah, as the U.S team attempts to continue competing in venues where there will not be throngs of fans for their opponents.
Costa Rica has not won on U.S. soil since 1995, but has never lost to the Americans in Costa Rica. U.S. Coach Bruce Arena says that his team has the utmost respect for the Ticos. "Our opponent on Saturday is traditionally one of the top three teams in CONCACAF (EDS: The Conference of North,Central America and Carribean Associal Football). I have the greatest respect for their new coach. So we are not really going to be that comfortable in predicting how they are going to play and who they are going to play so it will be a very challenging game," he said.
The U.S. men lost an exhibition match to England last week, 2-1, and are playing in Salt Lake City for the first time. The Americans are in second place in the group with six points while Costa Rica is fourth. Costa Rica fired its former coach and hired Alexandre Guimares, who helped lead the Ticos to the 2002 World Cup. Coach Arena says changing coaches can hurt some teams, but that Guimares's experience will help Costa Rica. "In this case it is going to be a positive because they bring in a very experienced coach who has been through this process before and is very familiar with the player pool," he said.
Meanwhile, group leaders Mexico take on Guatemala. Also Saturday, winless Panama takes on cellar-dwelling Trinidad and Tobago.