By Dylan Butler
EAST HARTFORD, Connecticut – In September, the United States and host Costa Rica will square off in the CONCACAF hexagonal for World Cup Qualifying. But first, the rivals will meet Tuesday at Rentschler Field for the top spot in Group C in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
For CONCACAF official notes about this game, click here.
The two powerhouses have done what was expected of them in the first two matchdays, beating Cuba and Belize to set up this anticipated showdown. Since the U.S. leads holds an advantage on goal difference, it needs only a draw to clinch the group title.
“We know this is the first real test for us with this group,” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said prior to Monday’s training session.
Both teams have also clinched a berth in the quarterfinals and will be moving up to Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. That doesn’t take away from the importance of this clash, though.
“We want to win this group,” U.S. forward Chris Wondolowski said. “We feel very fortunate that we’ve been able to go to the quarterfinals, but we want to win this group and we have to beat Costa Rica, or at least get a good result.”
Wondolowski is the top scorer in the Gold Cup with five goals in two games. As a team, the U.S. has struck for a tournament-best 10 goals.
“We recognize the U.S. is a very good squad in terms of scoring goals, we know some of their players are going to be troublesome for us,” Costa Rica head coach Jorge Luis Pinto said. “[Joe] Corona has been playing very well, [Kyle] Beckerman has been playing well and [Mix] Diskerud has been very active. We’re also going to play our game. The U.S. also has to worry about us.”
Meanwhile, the Ticos have the competition’s most stout defense. Costa Rica has posted back-to-back clean sheets and has not conceded a goal in 704 minutes during its seven-match unbeaten streak.
“Costa Rica’s backline is doing a very good job because they keep things very compact, they’re very aggressive and they squeeze the space really well,” noted Klinsmann. “For us now, we have to find ways to open it up, maybe switching the ball really quickly to the other side, finding the balls into our strikers. They are well known for that.”
Goals haven’t been easy for Costa Rica, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous in the attacking third with Alvaro Saborio, Jairo Arrieta and Michael Barrantes, who struck for a brace against Cuba.
Pinto promised that the Ticos will play an attacking style against the Americans.
“We’re going to be much more forward thinking and much more aggressive in the way with the U.S,” Pinto said. “The U.S. is a very aggressive side and we know they can contest the ball. We’re going to be very, very aggressive and go forward.”
While the Ticos are unbeaten in seven straight, the U.S. has a seven-game winning streak, dating back to a friendly win against Germany at RFK Stadium. Costa Rica’s last loss was to the U.S. during a blizzard in Commerce City, Colorado, 1-0, on March 26.
It was the last meeting between the teams, a contest both coaches spoke about Monday.
“Like I said this 1,000 times, no, that match should have never been played,” Pinto said. “If you talk around the world, it was never justified to be played.”
Meanwhile, Klinsmann said the snow adversely affected his team.
“Obviously it was a very tough night in Denver a couple months ago,” he said. “I still think if the game is played on green grass and not the snow coming in, I think we would have actually had a clearer result. We were really in very good shape that day.”
They may agree to disagree about the last game, but the two coaches are unified about Tuesday’s match.
“This will be a really good match, really good football,” claimed Pinto. “We’re going to be focusing on the attacking side, specifically for the U.S. It’s going to be an attractive match. We’re going to be very happy to be playing in this match and we’re going to do our best.”
There’s also no doubt both teams will play for the win.
“Every time these two teams meet, like when the U.S. meets Mexico or Costa Rica meets Mexico, you want to do well, show your opponent where you stand and what you have,” Klinsmann added. “You want to beat them. I think this gives you automatically more confidence when you face them the next time.”