Skip to content

Last stand in Denver? United States meets Costa Rica, with so much on the line in World Cup qualifying

Mar 22, 2013, 6:30 AM EDT

Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez

DENVER – Dicks Sporting Goods Park outside of Denver seems an unlikely place for a U.S. Soccer last stand – and yet here we are.

Technically, this does not qualify as “do-or-die” in ongoing World Cup qualifying; Jurgen Klinsmann’s team could fall tonight and then again Tuesday down in Mexico, and still have seven matches in this final round to gather up 15 or 16 points probably required for safe arrival into a seventh consecutive World Cup.

But this sure feels like a last stand considering injuries and absences to important figures, bubbling locker room issues and a final round schedule set-up that had this one tagged “critical” long ago. It has the weight of an Alamo-type stand, and the team would certainly drag a battered psychological state out of Colorado with anything less than victory here against Costa Rica.

(MORE: US team news, notes and quotes from Thursday’s final prep)

It’s no big stretch to say that Friday, in a very cold Denver suburb, the United States will either regain its footing in a march toward Brazil 2014 or see the effort possibly be mortally wounded.

So, yes, a sold out DSG Sporting Goods Parks in Denver (fairly light in U.S. national team history) is the site for the most pressure packed World Cup qualifier in at least 10 years. Kickoff tonight is set for 8 p.m. locally (10 p.m. ET) on ESPN.

“We’ve always come through when there’s pressure on,” veteran midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said. “It’s always been that way when I’ve been there, it won’t be any different come tomorrow. We embrace the pressure. We know we are at home, we know we need three points. It’s a very important match, even though it’s very early in the tournament. Everyone knows that. In qualifying you need to win your home matches, for sure. Tomorrow will be no different.”

The team chemistry isn’t right; we can still debate the level of tumult, but it’s safe to say there are issues that need sorting. A provocative Sporting News story put some things on the table, and at a nervous time when the United States faced a near must-win match anyway.

Lose tonight and the very real possibility exists of being 0-3 in final round CONCACAF qualifying; the Americans began this round with a loss in Honduras – where the young back line could not quite pass the test – and do battle down in Mexico next week at Azteca Stadium, where they have never won in World Cup qualifying. Never.

(MORE: Digging into the “Why?” over Klinsmann and his critics)

The sear of concern is particularly intense along a U.S. back line, where three starters are injured. Plus, former captain and stabilizing arm Carlos Bocanegra is not part of this camp, the latest in a series of Klinsmann’s controversial roster or lineup choices.

Tim Howard’s injury absence isn’t making anyone feel better about things, although backup Brad Guzan is having a wonderful season at Aston Villa and sure looks up for the job. As for Guzan playing behind a young and untested defense? He calls that a “Saturday.”

The mood of the camp seems typically relaxed, and even Klinsmann seems underwhelmed by all the ongoing talk of his performance. His response is more or less a shrug and smile and to say something about this being part of his job.

(MORE: Klinsmann responds to criticism and player unrest)

Besides, veteran players like Michael Bradley have come to his defense. So has Herculez Gomez. And from the center of it all, Bocanegra even had positive things to say about it all.

The U.S. attack, at least, is mostly intact, Landon Donovan and his ongoing sabbatical as the one obvious exception. Clint Dempsey has overcome a recent injury with Tottenham and looks set to start. He leads the team with six goals in 2014 qualifying, and has been named captain for this one.

Past the injuries and whispering malcontents in their midst, there is reason to like the U.S. chances here. The weather is to their liking; with more players who earn their living in Europe, they are presumably better equipped to deal with temperatures in the 30s and potential precipitation.

The United States’ dominance in home qualifiers cannot be understated. They have not lost one of these since 2001; the unbeaten streak has reached 22 matches (a 20-0-2 record).

(MORE: Most pressure on a World Cup qualifier in a decade)

The United States is 5-0-2 against Costa Rica in World Cup qualifiers at home. This Ticos version launched the final round with 2-2 draw at home against Panama, so there’s pressure in the Costa Rican camp, too. Plus, leading scorer Alvaro Saborio may have an injury concern, depending on which report you believe.

Either way, the Ticos have other attacking options.

(Look for more later today at ProSoccerTalk, including a lineup prediction)

Latest Posts
  1. WATCH: Previewing the Premier League’s six-match Saturday

    Aug 22, 2014, 9:51 PM EDT

    Roberto Martínez has exceeded early expectations at Everton, his "transition period" seeing the Toffees drop just one of their first 15 league games. (Source: Getty Images.) Getty Images

    The league’s second round kicks off at Villa Park and ends with the main event on Merseyside.

  2. Cristiano Ronaldo threw some punch-like thing at Diego Godín

    Aug 22, 2014, 9:12 PM EDT

    cristiano_ronaldo AP

    List of things Cristiano Ronaldo can’t do: Throw a proper punch.

  3. WATCH LIVE: FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake kick off MLS weekend

    Aug 22, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT

    Matt Hedges, Olmes Garcia AP

    Dallas is undefeated since May, while RSL has a chance to temporarily move clear atop the Western Conference.

  4. MLS Weekend Preview: Trio of marque marquee matches begins Friday in Frisco

    Aug 22, 2014, 7:17 PM EDT

    fabian_castillo Getty Images

    Dallas versus Real Salt Lake, Sporting hosting D.C. see the conferences’ best go head-to-head.

  5. Early Mandzukic goal sees Atlético defeat Real Madrid, claim Spanish Super Cup

    Aug 22, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT

    mario_mandzukic Getty Images

    Early Mandzukic goal gives Atlético its fifth trophy under Simeone.

  6. Top five storylines heading into Week 2 of the Premier League

    Aug 22, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT

    Howard rushed off his line to great effect in the first half to thwart Arsenal's offense. Getty Images

    Toffees and Gunners clash, Liverpool head to Man City, London derby time and much more.

  7. Robben dominance, Malanda miss give Bayern opening match win over Wolfsburg

    Aug 22, 2014, 4:59 PM EDT

    arjen_robben AP

    Goal, assist from Dutch star helped deliver Bayern three points to open the Bundesliga season.

  8. Premier League Preview: Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United

    Aug 22, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT

    Andreas Weimann AP

    Can Villa continue their good start to the season? Watch live, Saturday 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

  9. Report: Stoke City seeks European loan for Brek Shea; Many interested

    Aug 22, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT

    Burton Albion v Stoke City - Pre Season Friendly Getty Images

    Birmingham City, 1860 Munich, Millwall, Nurnberg… it seems Brek Shea is a man in demand when it comes to his loan from Stoke City.

  10. Bundesliga season preview, predictions: Bayern on top? Sure, but then who?

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT

    Germany Soccer Cup AP

    The Bavarians added Robert Lewandowski, and look poised to lead again. Who are the favorites to emerge in the race for second?

  11. Prindi’s Premier League Picks: United to get it right, Arsenal to stumble

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT

    Ryan Giggs, Louis van Gaal AP

    Matchweek 2 brings a few killer games including Everton v. Arsenal on Saturday and Manchester City v. Liverpool on Monday.

  12. Profile: The life and times of Mario Balotelli

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

    Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrat

    From the early days in Italy, to the craziness of Man City and then back to AC Milan, here’s the timeline of Balotelli’s life so far.

  13. Julian Green gets bench nod for Bundesliga opener, could make league debut

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT

    Bayern Munich's Julian Green fights for the ball with Al-Merrikh's Ramadan Ajab during their friendly soccer match in Doha Reuters

    The 19-year-old American attacker’s only senior appearance for Bayern was a Champions League sub. That could change today.

  14. La Liga season preview, predictions: Can anyone outlast Real Madrid?

    Aug 22, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT

    Cristiano Ronaldo AP

    Probably not, but with Sevilla and Barcelona strengthening while Atletico deals with roster tumult, look for some changes near the top.

  15. PSV enlists water cannons in next-level ALS Challenge (video)

    Aug 22, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 12.40.31 PM

    PSV Eindhoven called the police, upping the ante on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

  16. WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 2

    Aug 22, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT

    PremierLeagueNBC

    Where and how to watch every single PL game in Week 2, right here.

  17. Friday transfer rumor roundup: Manchester Utd mid search, Remy a Spur?

    Aug 22, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT

    1408716222483_wps_1_CRICIUMA_BRAZIL_AUGUST_9_ Getty Images

    A young Brazilian is the newest name linked with Louis van Gaal, while Manchester City could be selling a top young defender

  18. Report: Jermaine Jones to MLS transfer tied up in red tape

    Aug 22, 2014, 10:59 AM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup US Germany AP

    Jones wants to head to Chicago, and wants more money if he goes to New England.

  19. Americans Abroad Preview: Guzan, Howard face tests; Bundesliga opens

    Aug 22, 2014, 10:08 AM EDT

    FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-NANTES-PSG Getty Images

    Nantes is off to another strong start, and Ale Bedoya’s club now stares down a match-up with Monaco.

  20. Cardiff City calls for resignation of LMA chief over Mackay statement

    Aug 22, 2014, 9:20 AM EDT

    cardiff_city

    Labeling vile statements in text messages “friendly banter” has Cardiff in a frenzy, and looking for fresh consequences.

Featured video

Week 2: Saturday PL preview