By Michael Lewis
When it comes to World Cup qualifying, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann doesn't care about history as much as confidence.
In seven qualifying matches in Costa Rica, the United States has never won a game. The Americans have a 0-6-1 qualifying record there, the lone point a 1-1 draw in 1985.
But that hasn't deterred Klinsmann, who thinks that his troops will be able to secure a result when they meet the Ticos in a qualifier in San Jose, Costa Rica Friday. The U.S. (4-1-1, 13 points) leads the CONCACAF hexagonal, followed by the Costa Ricans (3-1-2, 11).
A win by either team would go a long way in booking a spot at Brazil 2014.
Klinsmann, a member of Germany's 1990 World Cup championship side and a world-renowned striker in his day, felt it all comes down to confidence. And with the Americans in the midst of a 12-game winning streak since a loss to Belgium in May, they have to be a side that believes in itself.
"It has a lot to do with confidence, and you build confidence only over time," Klinsmann said. "Obviously we changed a couple things over the past two years to go forward. Even after a 1-0 lead you want to score the second one, we don’t want to just sit back and defend. We’ve changed quite a few things on the mental side of it that’s played out already in a couple locations, whether it’s prestigious friendlies, in games in Jamaica or at Azteca Stadium.
"We have a lot of respect for Costa Rica and it’s important that the players always respect their opponent and know what to expect. They can expect a very intense game, a high energy game, but I think we have the quality and the mindset to be confident enough to go there for three points. This is what we’re trying to build. Even if you would theoretically go down a goal, there’s no reason to panic, you can still turn it around. I think more and more that this belief is getting bigger. It’s growing throughout the entire group, and we have a deeper roster than ever before. Hopefully we can take that mindset down to San Jose and win there for the first time ever in World Cup Qualifying.”
All of the six losses were incurred at Saprissa Stadium, which has been a nightmare and a half for the U.S.. Fans sit (and stand) virtually on top of the field, making it one intimidating ground.
Rebuilt National Stadium will host this Friday's encounter. While that venue is a state-of-the-art facility, there is a track around the field, which keeps the fans away from the action and makes it less a problem for opposing teams.
Klinsmann said the qualifier was the biggest game of the year.
“I have the approach that the next game is always the biggest one," he said. "But this game could put us absolutely in the driver’s seat for Brazil. One, we haven’t won there ever before and two, you want to set the tone in CONCACAF. You won the [CONCACAF] Gold Cup, you faced them already in the Gold Cup and I think we sent out some very strong signals too … if it’s Mexico, if it’s Costa Rica, if it’s Panama and other nations, and I think if we are able to get three points in San Jose next Friday then we’re almost in Brazil.
"That’s why I don’t want the players to think, not even for one second, about Mexico in Columbus. I want them just to tune in for San Jose, Costa Rica and give everything they have. Once that game is over on Friday night then we can turn the page and talk about other things. That’s why I’m saying it’s a huge game.”
The U.S. enters the game with seven players on yellow cards. Their next caution will mean a one-game suspension. Those in yellow peril include goalkeeper Tim Howard, defenders Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson, midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones and forward Clint Dempsey.
"You just need to have it in the back of your mind," Klinsmann said. "We obviously want to get everybody into the Mexico game as well, but if there’s a situation where you maybe need to commit a tactical foul to help your backline then it happens. Overall, I think the guys need to be very disciplined and focused. We hope to get through that game but by no means are we going to hold back.”
Michael Lewis, who has covered World Cup qualifying since 1985 and every World Cup since 1986, is the editor of www.bigapplesoccer.com. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com