United States' soccer players run during a training session ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match with Costa Rica, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The U.S. will face Costa Rica on Friday. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
With my friend Davey taking care of today's Union coverage, I'll troll the soccer haters even more before the weekend arrives with a quick preview of a HUGE five-day stretch for your United States men's national team.
Many seemed to appreciate our quick preview of the last USA-Mexico games, and the Stars and Stripes have two big games coming up, starting tonight. Don't worry, neither one conflicts with the other kind of football. So you have no excuses.
The Americans are in the driver's seat for a berth in World Cup 2014 heading into tonight's game in Costa Rica and Tuesday's matchup with archrival Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. The U.S. sits in first place in the six-team group of teams from North/Central America and the Caribbean. Teams play the other five teams home and away over 10 matches, with the top three teams earning automatic bids to Brazil 2014. The fourth-place team must play a two-game playoff against New Zealand for the other spot.
The U.S. could clinch a bid tonight, but only if three results go their way. More of the news about tonight's match has centered around the Costa Rican "gamesmanship" going on this week, after the "Ticos" were angered by having to get their feet a little wet during a game in Colorado in March, which was played in the snow and won by the U.S.
It was the lead on Keith Olbermann's new ESPN2 show last night, and he provides a good recap of all that's gone on this weekend.
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Tonight's game (10 p.m.) is available on BeIN Sport, a channel you might get but not even know it. Click here to find it on your TV, or if you want the true experience, head to Fado and watch with the American Outlaws Philadelphia chapter.
The big story tonight is where the game will be played. In the past, Costa Rica hosted all international games -- especially against the Americans -- at Estadio Saprisaa, an aging, intimidating, Vet Stadium-style-astroturfed venue where the United States never won a game.
In recent years, they've hosted most games at the shiny new Estadio Nacional, which has natural grass and a running track that keeps fans far away from the field -- well out of urine-throwing range. Once it was apparent that tonight's game would be important for Costa Rica's World Cup hopes, they even talked about moving back to Saprissa for old time's sake. But it apparently would've cost too much to get the run-down stadium up to FIFA standards.
Landon Donovan is back in the squad after a semi-self-imposed/semi-punishment hiatus away from the team. The Americans are at full-strength, and a draw or win would all but lock up a spot in the World Cup. Even more importantly, if the U.S. could lock up a bid in the next five days, they could use the final two qualifiers (home to Jamaica and at Panama) to find chemistry instead of needing results.
Once tonight's match is over, attention turns to Tuesday's showdown with a DESPERATE Mexico squad in Ohio. Unlike the Americans, the Mexicans' spot in the World Cup is very much in question.
But USA-Mexico deserves its own post. So check back Tuesday for more. And save some room in your football weekend for the other kind of football.