USA, currently top of the final six-team hexagonal in North, Central American and Caribbean qualifying, travel to Costa Rica for their next test on Wednesday 3 June. The game marks the start of a hectic period for the Americans, who face third-place Honduras in Chicago on Saturday before shipping out to South Africa to represent the region at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
The Costa Ricans, undergoing an astonishing revival since the appointment of coach Rodrigo Kenton, are second in the hexagonal, playing some of their finest football in years and have never lost to the United States on their own home soil. The Estadio Saprissa in San Jose is bound to rocking on Wednesday night as the hometown Ticos, currently a point behind the States, have the opportunity to leap-frog the Americans into top spot place with a win.
We need the get the details right for the first game, and that won't be easy because it's always tough to play in Costa Rica.
The Costa Ricans, under former junior coach Kenton, have turned to youth, with the likes of Brian Ruiz and Celso Borges playing critical roles. However, talismanic captain Walter Centeno, 34, is the veteran in the middle, and every inch the playmaker in this youthful squad. "The coach has given me a leadership role within the squad, and that means I always have to be motivated, very enthusiastic and show a lot of wisdom," The Tico captain told FIFA.com recently. "There was more experience in previous national teams but we're in a new era now. These are young guys who are doing very well."
The United States have never won, or even earned a draw, in San Jose, losing all five previous competitive visits to the Costa Rican capital. However, the Americans have assembled one the best squads in recent memory and are on a ferocious run of form, winning eight of their ten qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
There was more experience in previous national teams but we're in a new era now. These are young guys who are doing very well.
Coach Bob Bradley did, though, reveal some concerns about the glut of fixtures facing his team in a recent interview with FIFA.com. "We need the get the details right for the first game, and that won't be easy because it's always tough to play in Costa Rica," said the coach, whose side will also defend their CONCACAF Gold Cup (the region's cup of nations) in July. "The ability to get the players quickly recovered and make decisions about fitness of certain players is something we've handled pretty well in the past. After the first game we'll take a good, hard look and make the calls we need to make sure we're ready."
The Americans will be hoping for more of the same from Michael Bradley, the coach's son and a standout in the defensive midfield position, all-time top scorer Landon Donovan, Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and Spain-based teenager Jozy Altidore, who scored a hat trick against Trinidad and Tobago last month.