The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team takes on host Costa Rica Wednesday in a final round World Cup qualifying match for the North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region. The U.S. leads the group standings, but has never won a qualifier in Costa Rica, whose team could take over the top spot with a victory. The United States is trying to reach the World Cup for a record sixth consecutive time.
The match will be played in San Jose's Ricardo Saprissa Stadium, where the team known as "Los Ticos" enjoys a strong home field advantage. The venue is infamously loud. The playing surface is artificial turf and its boxy design puts the seats at a steep angle, making it seem as though the 24,000, chanting, stomping, drum-beating fans are almost on top of the field.
While such an atmosphere could present an intimidating and nerve-racking experience for the visiting squad, U.S. national team head coach Bob Bradley has a positive outlook about the game. He says a win in Costa Rica is a good example of something his team still wants to achieve.
"Costa Rica has had great success at Saprissa Stadium. It is loud, and they are very comfortable there. They have great confidence there. And certainly we are aware that we have never won there. We know these kind of games require a real commitment as a team, a good game plan, and finally just good efforts on the day. It is a big challenge, but one that we are very excited about," Bradley said.
As for the slick, plastic field, "players will tell you that the game is not the same on artificial turf. It think we always feel that the game is best, on a very good natural surface," he said. "The game on artificial turf depends on a few things. One is the quality of that turf? The second factor is, is the turf dry? Has it been wet down? Is it raining? These are all things that affect the speed of the game, the bounces, it affects how much give there is in terms of players, when they are cutting or going to the ground," he added.
Wednesday's match in Costa Rica is game four of 10 final round qualifying matches for the six-team CONCACAF region. Game five against third place Honduras is Saturday in the U.S. city of Chicago, where the Americans will have a heavy home field advantage. The United States has not lost at home to a regional opponent in 52 straight games since 2001.
Coach Bradley says the U.S. has had a good start in its qualifying matches, but the team is aware that Costa Rica and Honduras also have played well so far.
"We certainly view these two games as being very, very important. Quite obviously, Costa Rica and Honduras are tough opponents. We feel very strongly that we have a great opportunity now to put ourselves in a good position as we go into the last five matches," Bradley said.
Mexico, El Salvador, and the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago are the other three nations in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group. The top three teams will earn berths in next year's World Cup tournament in South Africa.
The United States leads the group standings with seven points from the first three games. Costa Rica is second with six, Honduras is third with four points. Mexico is fourth with three points, while El Salvador, and Trinidad and Tobago are tied at the bottom of the group with two points each.