No Costa Rican team has won a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier on United States soil in 24 years but the Ticos must end that drought on Wednesday to ensure themselves a berth at South Africa 2010.
CONCACAF qualifying for next year's global football showpiece concludes on Wednesday with USA and Mexico having already secured berths and Costa Rica fighting Honduras for the region's last automatic FIFA World Cup spot.
USA sets the pace with 19 points accrued from six wins and a draw in nine matches, although one of their losses was a 3-1 reversal at Costa Rica in June. Mexico, which visits eliminated Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday, is second on 18 points.
Costa Rica are third on 15 points with Honduras fourth on 13 points. Honduras will travel to border rival El Salvador needing a victory to have any hope of taking the automatic berth. Costa Rica would clinch a trip to South Africa with a victory but a draw or loss opens the door for Honduras, which would have a superior goal difference and get the nod with a victory combined with a Ticos draw in Washington.
Neither team will see their FIFA World Cup dream die but CONCACAF's fourth-place team faces a two-leg play-off against the fifth-place side from South America to determine a South Africa 2010 berth. "It's very important for us to qualify for the World Cup by taking care of our business without having to worry about other results," 35-year-old Ticos defender Luis Marin said.
Ticos coach Rene Simoes, a Brazilian who formerly guided Jamaica, took over after Rodrigo Kenton was fired after three losses in a row. Costa Rica won 4-0 on Saturday in Trinidad and Tobago but Simoes knows his next foe is formidable. "The US team knows how to control a match very intelligently," Simoes said.
Credit USA coach Bob Bradley with providing his squad with the instinct and discipline to seize command. "It has been a long learning process and we really came together, stayed disciplined, played very mature," USA midfielder Landon Donovan said. "And different guys have stepped up each time. Those are all things he instilled in us."
The Americans won 3-2 on Saturday at Honduras to join Brazil, Italy, Spain, Germany and Korea Republic as the only teams to reach six FIFA World Cups in a row. "I'm so glad we got it over with," USA goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "Hopefully the sky is the limit for us. We've played some big games in the last few years. I'm hoping we go down there and we're not afraid of what they throw at us."
Donovan recalled a disappointing winless run and first-round FIFA World Cup exit at Germany 2006 and is happy for the chance at redemption next year. "It feels great to qualify," Donovan said.
"We had a very disappointing 2006 and we don't want to go through that again. I'm a person who likes to live in the moment but if you don't learn from what happened then you get nothing out of it. I've learned a lot and I hope we have too."
The Americans, likely without injured Clint Dempsey, face a Costa Rican side featuring striker Alvaro Saborio and Esteban Sirias as well as several veteran players Simoes brought back to the national side to salvage the qualifying bid. A USA victory is likely necessary for the Americans to top the group with Mexico visiting an ousted Trinidad and Tobago side that has won only once in qualifying.