With the United States national team's most challenging battles of the year fast approaching, Jurgen Klinsmann is getting ready for his squad's shot at soccer history … by completely ignoring it.
Victory in Costa Rica on Friday and against Mexico in Columbus on Tuesday would leave Klinsmann's side a single win away from the all-time international winning streak of 15, currently held by Spain. And while some of those wins have come against regional minnows such as Belize and Cuba, there have been some noteworthy foes like Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The significance of the mark, if indeed it is achieved, should not be dismissed.
However, Klinsmann wants nothing to do with statistical accomplishments, brushing off all mention of the potential for history and remaining intently focused on one goal only – World Cup qualification.
"We want to qualify as soon as possible for Brazil," Klinsmann said this week. "It is going to be huge."
The U.S. has never won in Costa Rica, regularly struggling in the oppressive Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, also known as the "Monster's Cave" for its hostile atmosphere. That particular problem will be less of an issue this time around as the venue is not up to FIFA specifications. Instead, Friday's game will take place at the comparatively more sedate Estadio Nacional, a location in a suburb of the capital San Jose.
Form breeds confidence and the Americans are cruising right now. They discovered that priceless knack of being able to win even when they are not at their absolute peak and lead the six-team CONCACAF qualifying pool on 13 points with four games remaining. The top three qualify directly for Brazil next summer, with the fourth-place team taking on New Zealand in a playoff.
While the back-to-back task of visiting second-place Costa Rica and playing host to traditional foe Mexico provides the biggest threat to the U.S. streak, it also offers what is likely the last remaining obstacle in an otherwise smooth path to Brazil. Rarely has an American side ventured to Costa Rica with such expectation, rather than mere optimism.
"I really think it is just wonderful, such a challenge and something you want to embrace," Klinsmann said. "We will be ready for it. The Costa Rica game in San Jose is the biggest game of 2013 for all of us because we want to win there. If we battle there and get three points, then we are right where we want to be."
In the teams' first encounter in World Cup qualifying, the U.S. clinched a 1-0 victory in extraordinary conditions at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, where the snowfall was so thick by the end that the ball barely carried across the frosty turf. Costa Rica felt aggrieved that the contest was not called off or replayed. Plenty of animosity lingers.
As the Americans arrived at the airport in San Jose on Tuesday night, a small group of fans heckled the squad and threw eggs at the team bus as it departed.
"They thought the Snow Game shouldn't have been played, but we feel that we would have won by an even wider margin if there wasn't snow," Klinsmann said. "Everyone needs to understand there will be a lot of tension. It is a high intensity environment."
- Sports & Recreation
- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Costa Rica