For the U.S., Costa Rica is the final roadblock en route to qualification for the London Olympics

Andrew Bucholtz
Fourth-Place Medal
From left, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Kelley O'Hara celebrate Lloyd's goal against Guatemala.
From left, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Kelley O'Hara celebrate Lloyd's goal against Guatemala.

VANCOUVER, B.C.—Before the CONCACAF women's soccer Olympic qualifying tournament even began, the U.S. team was considered a heavy favorite to pick up one of the two London 2012 berths at stake, but there were a few obstacles in their path. The Americans have obliterated everything in their way thus far, though, putting up 14-0, 13-0 and 4-0 wins over the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico respectively, finishing at the top of their group and surviving the loss of starting right back Ali Krieger to injury. Now, only one final roadblock remains: Costa Rica, who the U.S. will meet Friday night (8 p.m. Eastern, The winner clinches a trip to London this summer, while the loser's Olympic dreams end here.

[ Related: Canada faces pressure-packed semifinal vs. Mexico ]

By every plausible indication, the U.S. will once again be strongly favored in Friday's game. FIFA's world rankings have the Americans at the top spot, while Costa Rica is 41st overall and fourth in CONCACAF (the North and Central American federation). Those rankings look about right given the squads' performances to date in this tournament. Granted, the two teams haven't played any common opponents, but the Americans have rolled over all in their way en route to a 3-0-0 record, 31 goals for and none against. Meanwhile, the Costa Ricans only earned 2-0 wins over lightly-regarded Haiti and Guatemala and were hammered 5-1 by seventh-ranked Canada in a game that could have been more lopsided. Their main claim to fame thus far is being the lone losing squad to score a single goal, and that came in the 89th minute against the Canadians when the outcome was long decided. On the whole, they've put up a 2-1-0 record, scored five goals and allowed five; not terrible, but certainly not a performance that suggests they're in the same class as the Americans.

Someone who'd agree with that assessment is Mexico coach Leonard Cuellar. Following his team's 4-0 thumping by the U.S. Tuesday, he spoke about how dominant the American squad is right now.

"The U.S., they're just the best team in the world," Cuellar said. "The statistics are very clear."

Cuellar said the experience and cohesion the Americans have picked up from incredible amounts of time training and playing together puts them in a different class.

"The U.S., the way they play, the way they stretch the defence, the way they make you change the ball, the way they treat the ball, it shows the hundreds of thousands of hours that they have spent together doing these things," he said.

Canadian coach John Herdman concurs that this matchup looks rather lopsided. Following his team's win over Costa Rica, while they were still waiting to find out who they'd play, Herdman spoke of the importance of finishing first in the group and presumably ensuring that Costa Rica would have to face the Americans. He said while the Costa Rican team has some talent, he can't see them holding their own in this one.

"The U.S.A., they've just been destroying teams so far," Herdman said. "Costa Rica will have a tough time against them."

Herdman said that the U.S. can't look too far ahead, though.

"Never write off Costa Rica, they've got about three players who can really cause damage."

It's difficult to see this American team losing focus, though. Veteran striker Abby Wambach said after their win over Mexico that the team isn't losing sight of their London goal.

"Really simply, we haven't done anything yet," she said.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said after the Mexico win that the team immediately refocused on Costa Rica.

"I'm really happy that everyone's saying 'One more game, one more game,'" Sundhage said. "That is very important. We need as we did in the first two games the speed of play; that is when we look good."

Wambach pointed out that the U.S. was in a similar position in World Cup qualifying in 2010, and that led to a semifinal loss to Mexico that forced them to enter the World Cup through a playoff series against Italy. She said that still resonates with the team.

"This is the exact position we were in in Mexico," Wambach said. "I can speak for myself, I know that that's definitely been the only thing that's been on my mind."

There's no backdoor route this time, so a loss to Costa Rica would end the Americans' Olympic hopes. Wambach said the U.S. team has learned from their defeats, though, including their World Cup final loss against Japan.

"I don't think any of that will ever leave us," she said. "That's the flame that lit. When you come so close to winning something and just fall short, it's one of those situations that makes the great athletes even greater."

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