HARTFORD, Conn. – The United States and Costa Rica both sit on six points with one decisive game remaining in Group C, and on Sunday night, the two teams sat across the aisle from each other on the flight from Salt Lake City to the East Coast.
There were no hard feelings, according to US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but the Snow Game and the failed appeal that followed are certainly still stuck in the collective craw of a Costa Rican Gold Cup side that includes 13 players that were among the 18 on that wild night in Colorado.
The US squad includes eight players who either played or froze on the bench, and Klinsmann has no intention of allowing Jorge Luis Pinto and his side to take out any of their frustrations on Tuesday night at Rentschler Field (8 pm ET | Fox Soccer, UniMas | Live chat on MLSsoccer.com). The top spot in Group C is on the line in what will be both sides’ most arduous challenge yet.
“Tomorrow we’ll [put out] our best lineup because we want to win this game. Absolutely,” Klinsmann told reporters at Monday’s press conference. “We want to send out a signal. We want to see where we’re at right now. We all understand that the previous games we were expected to win and also expected to put some goals in. We know that this is now the first real test for us with this group.”
With another win or even a draw, the Americans would finish atop the group, keep their undefeated record against Costa Rica in the Gold Cup intact and ensure a matchup with either Martinique or El Salvador in the quarterfinals. The Ticos, meanwhile, would have to go toe-to-toe with Honduras.
And while the US swept aside Belize and Cuba by a combined score of 10-2, Costa Rica hasn’t exactly wowed against identical competition. They were fortunate Cuba were impotent in front of net despite numerous opportunities before piling on with three goals late on, and needed an own goal to squeak by the group minnows in Salt Lake City.
Still, despite the gap in relative form between the sides, Klinsmann reiterated on Monday that a victory would represent a benchmark accomplishment for this group, even if Belize, reduced to road kill against the Americans, pushed the Ticos to their limit just two days ago.
“They still won it. They still have the six points,” he said. “That’s all that matters. We expect a very difficult game tomorrow night.”
So far in this tournament difficulty of any measure has been hard to come by for a US side that’s had no problem creating chances and scoring goals over their last 270 minutes of play, which includes a pre-Gold Cup demolition job against overmatched Guatemala.
Klinsmann’s charges have scored 16 goals during that period, a total unlikely to balloon at a similar rate against a supremely motivated and recently impenetrable Costa Rican backline. They haven’t allowed a goal in seven matches since suffering what they still consider to be a farcical defeat at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in March.
“We are very well aware of the [challenge Costa Rica pose]. It’s one of the toughest opponents in CONCACAF,” Klinsmann said. “It’s for a reason they’re up there in the group with us. There is a lot of respect for them. But I think we are developing as a team, playing better and better, learning more and more of the principals of the elements that we want to give these guys and implement in these kinds of games.”
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