The United States will host Costa Rica on Wednesday evening in Columbus, Ohio, in a game that sees the team under pressure to convincingly take all three points following a disappointing weekend performance.
Even though Gregg Berhalter’s squad is currently second place in the CONCACAF qualifying standings, Wednesday’s game against los Ticos represents somewhat of a crossroads which will decide whether they approach the halfway mark of qualifying in a strong position, or needing to play a dangerous game of catch-up.
In Panama City on Sunday, Berhalter made seven changes from the squad that had shut out Jamaica in their first game three days prior, with the result being a predictable, flat, deflating loss that was obvious from the moment the starting lineup was announced.
Nevertheless, the team – and their coach – have to quickly bounce back in Columbus on Wednesday, and have a strong chance against a Costa Rica squad that has largely failed to impress so far in their first five games.
Fortunately for the Americans, most of the players responsible for the win against Jamaica will be well-rested for kickoff on Wednesday after their benching in Panama. Additionally, two key absences – midfielder Weston McKennie and defender Antonee Robinson – should be back in action, and in the starting lineup, after entirely missing the trip for Sunday’s debacle.
Barring another inexplicable lineup experiment from Berhalter, Wednesday should see most of the heavy guns, at least those that are available, return to the starting eleven. This should mean that fans will have the pleasure of seeing Ricardo Pepi and Brenden Aaronson heading the attack, looking to add to their qualifying goal totals, with midfield Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams prowling the midfield.
Robinson and Sergiño Dest should also return to the starting lineup as outside backs, however the central pairing in back line will otherwise be a surprise, with none of the many options available to Berhalter so far standing out positively or negatively.
A victory will, in all likelihood, keep the Stars and Stripes in second place with six of 14 games played, and gradually widen the gap ahead of the gaggle of teams below.
However, a draw or even a loss by the Americans – as happened in qualifying four years ago – will open the door for several of their competitors to surpass them in the standings, and more critically cement what could become a four-way dogfight between the USA, Panama, Canada and Costa Rica for the two remaining automatic qualification spots behind still-unbeaten Mexico.
The latter case would be particularly troublesome, as the Americans will host the Mexicans in their following game in Cincinnati in November, where they will attempt the difficult feat of beating their greatest rivals three times in a row.
Costa Rica has struggled more this time in their quest to reach the World Cup than in most recent editions, managing so far only a single win from their first five games. Their six points leaves them currently out of any qualifying spots, however they are still very much in the game, and a win on American soil would certainly see them climb.