World Cup Hexagonal Round Preview: Costa Rica vs. USA

Who: United States vs. Costa Rica
What: World Cup 2010 qualifying, CONCACAF final round
When: 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Where: Estadio Ricardo Saprissa; San Jose Costa Rica
TV: ESPN2 (coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET with 30 minute pre-game show) and Galavision (coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET)
By Noah Davis

After a two-month layoff, the United States Men's National Team begins its massive slate of summer matches on Wednesday when it travels to Costa Rica to battle the Ticos on the fourth matchday of CONCACAF final round qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

After three games, the Americans sit atop the six-team group on seven points, with the squad's mid-week opponent just a point behind in second place. Costa Rica is undefeated against the U.S. on the artificial turf of Estadio Ricardo Saprissa -- posting a 5-0-1 all-time record in World Cup qualifying -- but Bob Bradley's men made wining in the Central American country a goal from the beginning of the cycle.

However, with injuries to key players plaguing the U.S. as well as with the quick turnaround caused by home match against Honduras and the upcoming Confederations Cup serving as potential distractions, a victory could be too tall an order.

The Flank Problems
The left flank of the American defense has been a troublesome spot for some time. Three players -- DaMarcus Beasley, Jonathan Bornstein, and Heather Pearce -- are competing for the starting slot. After getting the nod against Trinidad and Tobago, the Rangers man -- who's been a fixture at left midfield for the U.S. -- seems to have the inside track, but it remains to be seen if Bradley feels Beasley has enough experience in his new position to play in such an important match. (Also, if Jozy Altidore cannot start, Beas reverts to his previous spot while Bornstein gets the start behind him.)

On the other side of the formation, expect Jonathan Spector to get a start with Frankie Hejduk ruled out due to a groin injury. Marvell Wynne is also a possibility, but the U.S. manger will defer to the West Ham defender's experience.

Get In, Get Out, Stay Healthy
While winning in Saprissa would be a nice boost for American morale -- especially after tying El Salvador -- it's not necessary. A tie is a fine, even excellent, result in a venue of which Landon Donovan once said, "I've never took part in any game, anywhere in the world, where you can feel so much passion and pressure." Even a loss would only momentarily derail the U.S.'s attempt to book a ticket for South Africa.

In reality, three points from the next two games will put the squad in a perfect position as the Hexagonal round begins its second half. In many ways, avoiding additional injuries could be the most important aspect of what should be a very physical match. Still, taking the pressure off with a defeat of the Ticos wouldn't hurt.

Going for Three Straight
Costa Rica, the most successful team in Central America, enters the match in good position to qualify for its third straight World Cup. It's a team in transition -- only two of the starting XI from the first match of the 2006 World Cup campaign figured in its last qualifying game -- but new manager Rodrigo Kenton has his squad believing it should gain one of CONCACAF's three automatic bids to South Africa.

The Ticos mix a wealth of veterans such as Walter Centeno and Freddy Fernandez with brilliant young talent including Celso Borges and Brian Ruiz, both of whom will test the U.S.'s defenders. Andy Furtado has two of the team's three goals in this round of qualifying, while the defense has yet to allow a tally in Saprissa. This one won't be decided until the full 90 have been played.

Projected Costa Rica Lineup
------------------------ Navas -------------------------
Segares -- Corrales Umana -- Fernandez -- Diaz
Borges ---- Centeno ---- Hernandez ----- Alonso
-------------- Ruiz ------------ Furtado --------------

Projected U.S. Lineup
------------------------ Howard --------------------
Spector --- Onyewu --- Bocanegra --- Beasley
Dempsey -- Bradley -- Mastroeni -- Donovan
----------- Altidore ------------- Ching -----------

Goal.com prediction: United States 1-1 Costa Rica

Noah Davis covers the U.S. Men's National Team for Goal.com.

For more on the U.S. National Team visit Goal.com's U.S. National Team page