Anything less than a victory against Costa Rica on Tuesday night, and the United States will likely be facing first-round elimination from the Copa America Centenario, a tournament U.S. Soccer hoped would showcase American players and this country as a potential host for the 2026 World Cup.
The prestigious South American tournament moved to U.S. soil and expanded its field for this special 100th anniversary edition to include six teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Mexico immediately took advantage of the invitation, knocking off heavyweight Uruguay 3-1 in its opener. But the U.S. team began with a lackluster 2-0 loss to world No. 3 Colombia.
The Americans have a chance to redeem themselves at Soldier Field in Chicago against a familiar CONCACAF foe that will be missing injured Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas and key defender Kendall Waston of the Vancouver Whitecaps, who was red-carded in the Ticos’ 0-0 tie with Paraguay.
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If the U.S. team can get four points between Tuesday’s match (8 p.m., FS1, UniMas) and Saturday’s game against Paraguay in Philadelphia, they are in good shape to advance.
It remains to be seen whether U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will stick with his lineup from the Colombia match or make some tweaks.
In that game, Brad Guzan started in goal, and the back line included DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks and Fabian Johnson. The midfielders were Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Gyasi Zardes and Weston’s Alejandro Bedoya, who is carrying a yellow card into the Costa Rica match. Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood started up front.
Trailing by two goals in the 66th minute, Klinsmann put in Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic in place of Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood. The subs added a spark to the attack, as they had in the tuneup friendlies. Nagbe, 25, led the Portland Timbers to the MLS Cup last season and is an excellent passer who keeps the ball at his feet as well as — if not better than — everyone on the roster.
Nagbe scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Ecuador a few weeks ago, and he completed all 33 of his passes. Pulisic is the 17-year-old wunderkind who plays for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and has pace and poise that bring instant energy when he steps on the field.
There is little question those two players figure into the team’s future. The question is: Does Klinsmann have enough faith in them to start them in a must-win game? Or, will he stick with his veterans and hope they show more creativity and finishing touch than they did against Colombia?
As for the Ticos, they are eager to get back to the form they had when they were surprise quarterfinalists at the 2014 World Cup.
Coach Oscar Ramirez expects a different game than the one they played against Paraguay and is confident his team will overcome the absences of Navas and Waston.
“I think the game is going to be a little bit more of a soccer-type of match,” he said. “It’s all good, because we have the people, we have 23 people in the squad for these kinds of situations, and we have to adapt.”
The United States has not lost to Costa Rica on American soil in an official match since 1989, a span of 15 matches, but the Ticos won the past two meetings, including a 1-0 victory in a friendly in New Jersey in October.
“We always feel confident in our abilities as a team,” Dempsey said. “We’ve been in situations where our backs have been against the wall, and this time it’s no different.”