The U.S. and Costa Rica last met on July 16, 2013, in the CONCACAF Gold Cup (above), a 1-0 win for the Americans. (Photo: Mexsport)
By Michael Lewis
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Despite not having won there in eight attempts across 28 years, the United States enters its vital World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica confident it can make some history on Friday.
One reason is that the Americans are atop the CONCACAF hexagonal with a 4-1-1 mark as they near a seventh consecutive World Cup berth.
Another reason is that they are currently riding a 12-game winning streak – a team record -- that has included three qualifying triumphs and perfect CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign.
And a third reason is that the encounter will not be played at the Estadio Saprissa, a venue that has proven to be challenging for the U.S. (as well as many other visitors) over the years.
Friday's game will take place at the state-of-the-art Estadio Nacional, which was completed in 2011.
"In theory it’s an advantage to not have to play there (the Estadio Saprissa), but that doesn’t guarantee anything," said U.S. attacker Landon Donovan. "I think we like our chances playing against this team on a grass field vs. turf.
“It doesn't mean that anything changes on the field. We still have to do the things that we need to do to win. We're playing a good team, so it's still going to be difficult."
Donovan, who scored five goals at July’s Gold Cup on the way to earning the Golden Ball award, is in line to make his first appearance in a qualifier since the Americans drew 1-1 at Guatemala on June 12, 2012, a span of 10 games.
The LA Galaxy star stated that he felt he was playing the best soccer of his career, one that has included three World Cup appearances and four Major League Soccer titles.
"This is the best I've ever played because the energy I had at 20 is pretty close to what I have [now]," he said on Thursday. "Everything is slowing down on the field, everything makes sense. Every time I touch the ball I feel I can make an impact on the game."
The Americans have secured several firsts during the regime of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, including its first win in Italy on Feb. 29, 2012, its first victory over Mexico at the Estadio Azteca on August 15, 2012, and its first qualifying point in Mexico on March 26 earlier this year.
The impressive variety of those results make the former Germany star player and head coach positive his team can win in San Jose for the first time.
"It has a lot to do with confidence, and you build confidence only over time," he said. "Obviously we changed a couple things over the past two years to go forward. Even after a 1-0 lead you want to score the second one, we don’t want to just sit back and defend. We’ve changed quite a few things on the mental side of it that’s played out already in a couple locations, whether it’s prestigious friendlies, in games in Jamaica or at Azteca Stadium.
"We have a lot of respect for Costa Rica and it’s important that the players always respect their opponent and know what to expect. They can expect a very intense game, a high energy game, but I think we have the quality and the mindset to be confident enough to go there for three points. This is what we’re trying to build. Even if you would theoretically go down a goal, there’s no reason to panic, you can still turn it around.”