Five things to watch: Costa Rica v USA

September 5th, 2013

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA

On Friday, the United States men’s national team plays its seventh of ten games in the final stage of World Cup qualifying against Costa Rica.

Here are five urgent questions heading into the game:

Is Jozy Altidore ready to go?

The young target man, newly of Sunderland, is recovering from a hamstring injury. After getting an MRI in Miami upon joining the team, he was given the go-ahead by the medical staff. But how effective he will be, and how durable, remains to be seen.

His importance can hardly be overstated. There is no other striker available who is so proficient at holding up the ball and getting the adjoining attackers involved. And Altidore has scored in his last five USA games, a record, tallying seven goals in all.

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Image courtesy of AP Images

Who will play right back?

Steve Cherundolo is still out with an injury. Timmy Chandler is unavailable too. And Brad Evans, who has played in the spot most recently, was a late scratch from the team because of a calf injury. He was replaced on the roster by Michael Parkhurst, but he, like fellow candidate Geoff Cameron isn’t a natural at the right back position.

Both have their limitations going forward. And both are fourth-stringers at best.

How will Landon Donovan fit in?

American soccer’s golden-boy-cum-prodigal-son-returned hasn’t played for the so-called A-team since August of last year. He hasn’t played in a World Cup qualifier since June of 2012, missing out on 10 competitive games. Yet he was utterly dominant in the US’s run to the Gold Cup title this summer.

But where does he slot into the team? Does he dispel Graham Zusi on the right flank? Fabian Johnson on the left? Probably not, as he’s listed on the roster as a forward. But it’s hard to imagine him bumping Altidore or captain Clint Dempsey out of the lineup. So will Klinsmann sit Donovan? And how would the program’s all-time leader in both goals and assists take to that?

Is Clint Dempsey sharp?

Captain Deuce is in line for his 100th cap against Costa Rica. His seven goals lead the team for World Cup qualifying, and he scored the winner in the first contest with Costa Rica back in March. But if questioning of Dempsey has historically proved foolhardy, it is nevertheless in order.

Since making his mega-dollars move from Tottenham Hotspur back to Major League Soccer, Dempsey hasn’t quite made an impact for the Seattle Sounders yet. This is understandable, given that he joined the team mid-season, after some time off. Given that he now plays at a lower level, however, the potential impact of one of the team’s biggest influencers could be down.

Can suspensions be avoided?

The math in qualifying is fairly simple. A red card or two yellow cards in separate games equals a one-game suspension. Six games in, eight Americans on the roster are one caution away from sitting the next one at home against Mexico on Sept. 10. And they are no less than Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones.

Costa Rica promises to offer up a chippy game. But losing more than one of these pivotal players for the next qualifier could be potentially very harmful.

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