August 31, 2017

The USA vs. Costa Rica World Cup Qualifying Preview

Summer is almost over and the action for the United States Men’s National Team turns to vitally important games. Next up for the USA is Costa Rica in the first of two World Cup qualifying matches in September. The club season is underway in Europe so these international breaks take on even more importance. Not to mention there are only four games remaining for the USMNT to punch their ticket to Russia. They currently sit in third place, right behind Friday’s opponent, Costa Rica. We’ll examine what’s at stake in the Semper Soccer blog’s preview of USA vs. Costa Rica.

Second Place At Stake

Through six games in the final CONCACAF qualifying round, the United States has collected 8 points. That’s good enough for third place and would clinch an automatic World Cup berth. Costa Rica sits on 11 points and in second place. The outcomes of this game are simple. If Costa Rica wins, they’re a virtual lock for a trip to Russia next summer. A win for the USA puts them in second place and has the team feeling great about their chances. If both teams salvage a point and it’s a draw, well, we’re back where we started just with one less game to play.

After going to Costa Rica in November and being taken apart 4-0 by the Ticos. The Stars & Stripes stated their goal is to earn three points and they expect to in a home game. Bruce Arena’s roster is rich with experience and, most importantly, CONCACAF experience. The pressure is still on the U.S. squad but things are looking brighter, especially if they can reach second place.

What To Watch For

With his star continuing to rise, all eyes are on Christian Pulisic for the USA vs. Costa Rica match this week.

With his star continuing to rise, all eyes are on Christian Pulisic for the USA vs. Costa Rica match this week.

This United States side could be pretty formidable with a few players back in the fold. Fabian Johnson and Bobby Wood are both healthy. Johnson is as close to a shoe-in starter as you can get for the United States, but the question is where do you play him? The majority of his national team duty is spent at left back, but he plays well for his club in the midfield. Jorge Villafana is a strong left back option that could push Johnson further up the field, but the USA already has strong midfield options on this roster.

It wouldn’t be a United States soccer window without wondering who the center back pairing will be. John Brooks is out for three months with a thigh injury. Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez are all capable of starting at any time for the USA. Arena may try to split up these games because the coaching staff seems pleased with what they’ve seen from Tim Ream in training. They’ll have to corral the Costa Rica attack first before worrying who plays on a tough road trip to Honduras next week.

Finally, how will Arena use Clint Dempsey? Deuce is one goal away from becoming the United States’ all-time leader. His experience could be useful against the Ticos for longer stretches or he could come off the bench in the super sub role he played so well in the Gold Cup. No matter how long he plays, U.S. fans will be watching to see just when he can bag goal 58.

USA vs. Costa Rica Projected Lineup

We have two big questions when projecting Friday night’s line for the USMNT. Where does Fabian Johnson play? Who starts at center back? The Johnson decision plays a big role in who occupies the midfield spots. If Johnson plays in the back four, you could see Kellyn Acosta and Michael Bradley in the center of the park. If he moves up to a wing spot, Acosta most likely sits with Darlington Nagbe moving inside and playing ahead of Bradley. A central midfield pairing of Acosta and Bradley allows Bradley to shield the back four while Acosta works box-to-box.

With DeAndre Yedlin injured, Graham Zusi looks to be a sure starter at right back. Christian Pulisic will be in the starting 11 as well as Jozy Altidore. Who will Arena pair with Altidore up top? How about a healthy Booby Wood? The two play well off each other and Arena can save some of his more experienced players for the road match against Honduras.

USA vs. Costa Rica projected lineup

USA vs. Costa Rica projected lineup

The Prediction

There are so many things working for the United States for Friday night’s game. They’re at home, they’re looking for revenge, they’re undefeated since Bruce Arena returned and they’ve built themselves a great atmosphere. This game is being played at Red Bull Arena, a much smaller venue than normal. The New York/New Jersey area hasn’t played a role in a World Cup qualifier in a while. On the other hand, Costa Rica is the toughest team left on the USA’s Hex schedule. However, we think the USA rides this hot streak to another three points at home. Our pick: USA, 2-1.

How To Watch

Time: 6:30 p.m. Eastern, 5:30 p.m. Central

TV: ESPN, Univision

Watch Parties: Find your local American Outlaws chapter and enjoy the game together.

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