Columbus Crew SC may be enjoying a weekend off, but the Men’s National Team is picking up the slack with two games that count as they try and earn a spot for the 2018 World Cup. With a daunting trip to Honduras coming up; the U.S. will be trying to take care of business at home with a vital matchup against Costa Rica in New Jersey tonight.
The Americans are at near full strength after rolling out a mixed squad for the Gold Cup over the summer. Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, and Jozy Altidore are ready to lead the attack. Head coach Bruce Arena has several options to pair with Michael Bradley, including MLS mainstays Alejandro Bedoya, Darlington Nagbe, and Kellyn Acosta ready to step up.
The only thin spot is at the back. John Brooks and Deandre Yedlin will miss due to injury. The team still has Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler to step in the middle. While converted winger Graham Zusi has made home at right back.
Crew SC wingback Waylon Francis hasn’t worked his way back into the Ticos squad yet, but former Black & Gold center back Giancarlo González is in the squad. González used his time in Columbus and a fantastic 2014 World Cup to a move to Palermo in Italy. The big center back made a summer move to Bologna.
Keys to the match:
Bunker busting: Visiting Costa Rica are likely to defend deep and keep the game in front of them. It will be up to the creators on the U.S. team to try and find the seams. While eyes will fall to the the youthful Pulisic as he can create something out of nothing, there are others that that can help. Clint Dempsey may be at the twilight of his career, but he still is exceptional in tight spaces, while Altidore functions very well as a pivot to work around. If there is a rare counterattack, the Americans have to make it count.
Focus: Defending the counterattack is always a balancing act. If the Ticos as expected draw more pressure, the U.S. will likely be able to throw numbers forward. The remaining defenders will have to keep up with changing assignments against a team that is well drilled in being able to break out at speed. The American backline may not be called on to do much, but when they are, it’s likely critical that they make their plays.
How to Watch:
Date/Time: Friday Sept. 1st, 6:55 p.m. ET
Venue: Red Bull Arena (Harrison, New Jersey)
Watch: ESPN, Univision and UDN