Tyler Adams: “We’ve been clever up to this point. The group has handled many tricky situations very well.” (Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK)
By Michael Lewis
How strange is this?
The U.S. men’s national team doesn’t have to win or even draw with Costa Rica on Wednesday night to reach the World Cup.
The Americans can lose by five goals and book a spot in Qatar this November.
At Estadio Nacional in San Jose, in a country where the squad has never won a qualifier.
But that’s the scenario the USA faces when it takes on one of the best of Concacaf.
So, with so much elbow room between success and failure, the USMNT doesn’t plan to change any plans or its strategy. The team won’t play for a tie.
“I want to go into every game with the mindset that we’re going to win,” midfielder Tyler Adams said during a Zoom call with the media. “We’re in a position right now where history sort of speaks where we can come to Costa Rica and get the first win in you know the qualification process for the national team.”
The U.S. has a 0-9-1 record in the Central American country. Its lone point came in a 1-1 tie in 1985. Since then, the Americans have rattled off nine consecutive defeats.
“It’s again putting a checkmark next to something that no other team has done,” Adams continued. “We’ve had this game-by-game mentality. … So, it would be you know, a big accomplishment for the team for the coaching staff to come here and have a successful result.”
The USMNT (7-2-4, 25 points), in second place in the Concacaf Octagonal, enjoys a sizable goal differential lead over the fourth-place Costa Ricans (6-4-3, 21) – – +13 to +3. Translated, that means the Americans could lose by five goals and still reach the World Cup for the first time since 2014. In past losses in Costa Rica, the worst result for the USA was a 4-0 drubbing in 2016, which brought along the firing of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The top three teams get automatic bids to Qatar. The No. 4 squad will play the Oceania winner for a spot on June 13 or 14.
“We’re not taking anything for granted. Its as simple as that,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We’re coming here to be aggressive in the game. That’s our intention. We’re not going to be cautious. We’re not going to sit back. We’re not going to play for a tie. We’re playing for a win. “That’s the mentality you need. It would be strange now after 13 rounds to differ in your last game. We know we’re 90 minutes away from a potential berth and World Cup but it’s not time to put take your foot off the gas.”
Of course, this being Concacaf, strange things can happen, especially on the road. Remember when Gregg Berhalter the player was charged with a hand ball and Costa Rica awarded a penalty kick when he headed the ball out of bounds late in a July 2000 qualifier? The Ticos converted the ensuing spot kick in the 88th minute to secure a controversial 2-1 win.
The last thing the USA needs would be some surprising red cards out of nowhere.
“I’m sure that Gregg will talk about that today that we can’t go into this game being naive in any matters,” Adams said. “We’ve been clever up to this point. The group has handled many tricky situations very well. We’ve learned a lot throughout how the refs are going to deal with certain situations, and what they’re going to call, what they’re not going to call, what they’re looking for. Also obviously having VAR you always need to be a little bit more clever. We’re not going into the game with the mindset that we’re going to get a red card and you always want to avoid that.”
What will make the USA qualifying even more remarkable is that it has missed three key performers who are injured during the final qualifying window – defender Sergino Dest, midfielder Weston McKennie and forward Brenden Aaronson.
“Three hours before the game in Mexico, I was on FaceTime with Weston and he was wishing me good luck,” Adams said. “He wanted us to take care of business and to tell everyone. good luck. The next game I wasn’t expecting another call from him. I got another call from him three hours before the game so we’re very connected. This goes deeper than the football. We’ve created friendships and relationships with guys that translate completely onto the field. We really miss those guys. They’re important pieces to our team. But it’s good to have more guys that are able to come in and play pivotal roles on our team.”
Berhalter confirmed that defender Reggie Cannon has recovered from COVID-19 and will be available for Wednesday’s match. He was scheduled to train with the side on Tuesday.