Costa Rica is out for revenge.
The Ticos (3-2-1) have come up short in both of their meetings with the United States (4-1-1) in recent months, losing 1-0 in World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup group stage, and the former especially sticks in the craw of fans in the Central American country. In the middle of a snow storm, a first-half goal from Clint Dempsey was enough to seal all three vital Hexagonal points for the Yanks. Costa Rica later appealed the result, with coach Jorge Luis Pinto calling it "an embarrassment to football." That appeal was denied by FIFA.
The failed appeal has only bolstered the feeling of injustice felt by Costa Ricans, who have taken to hyperbole and petty gamesmanship ahead of the match. Where U.S. men's national team players were previously given priority immigration status and private travel transitions, they now had to wait in line with everybody else, and walk to their bus surrounded by enraged locals yelling "USA, no fair play!" The Costa Rican FA failed to provide the U.S. team with game balls for training, and left the Yanks to find their own practice facility after the three recommended sites refused the Stars and Stripes. Newspaper Al Dia printed a picture of U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann arriving at the airport with the caption "los sentimos Jurgen, no hay nieve" (sorry Jurgen, no snow).
The off-field sideshow has somewhat overshadowed the facts. The top two teams in the Hex can virtually (or even literally) book their tickets to Brazil with good weeks, Costa Rica for the first time since 2002. A win in San Jose means the U.S. is guaranteed at least a playoff against New Zealand. An additional win against Mexico in Columbus and the U.S. will have qualified. Costa Rica isn't quite as well off, but a win against the USA would put it at the top of the table, with a game on Tuesday against group whipping boyz Jamaica while the U.S. slugs it out with Mexico.
The biggest injury concern for the U.S. is red-hot striker Jozy Altidore. Having scored in six straight U.S. appearances, he did not fully participate in training on Wednesday despite being cleared by U.S. medical staff. If he is unable to play on Friday, Klinsmann will have to decide whether he wants to play one of stalwarts Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey (set for his 100th cap) out of position, or start one of Eddie Johnson or Aron Johannsson.