Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Preview: Heated rivalry resumes as USA clash with Costa Rica

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  • USMNT could qualify tonight. But the US must beat Costa Rica, Mexico must tie Honduras and Panama must lose or draw against Jamaica
  • Jozy Altidore is an injury doubt after suffering a hamstring strain and missing Sunderland’s game on Sept. 1
  • The US has never won a WC qualifier away in Costa Rica and has a 0-7-1 record

This is it folks, a win tonight and the US national team could seal their place in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

A lot of other results have to go their way, but if Jurgen Klinsmann’s team can pull out the win down in a hostile environment in San Jose, it can be done.

But the problem is in eight previous trips to Costa Rica in WC qualifying the US has never won, losing seven and drawing one. And Costa Rica are in fine form in CONCACAF qualifying, sitting behind the US in second place with 11 points from six games. A win for the home side would see them leapfrog the US into top spot and pole position to qualify for Brazil 2014.

(MORE: Who will start for US national team vs. Costa Rica?)

Following the infamous “SnowClasico” game between the USA and Costa Rica in Denver back in March, a burgeoning rivalry between the two nations has been spilling over with Friday night’s game the culmination of several months of heated talk on both sides of the fence.

See, the Ticos were upset that the game played at Dicks Sporting Goods’ Park on March 22 went ahead following near whiteout conditions near Denver. But the CONCACAF officials at the game allowed the match to continue, much to the annoyance of Costa Rican players, officials, fans and their national soccer governing body.

That animosity has boiled over as Klinsmann’s US national team arrived in San Jose earlier this week ahead of a crunch qualifier. Several stunts including road blockades, lack of training facilities, the US team bus being egged and many more issues have come to the fore as the Costa Ricans fans turn up the heat in the soccer rivalry.

source: Getty Images
Klinsmann’s squad are focused despite all the animosity shown towards them in Costa Rica.

To add an extra storyline to the mix, as if it needed one, a heavy series of rainstorms are heading towards Central America and could put the game in jeopardy if it falls in San Jose.

(MORE: USA-Costa Rica rivalry reaches new heights after “SnowClasico” backlash)

Back on the pitch, the US are protecting a record 12-game winning streak that dates back to a friendly win against Germany in D.C. in May. In terms of injuries the USA’s star striker Jozy Altidore has been out with a hamstring injury after missing Sunderland’s game with Crystal Palace last weekend. While murmurs of Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey being “60 percent fit” are circling.

Elsewhere the US have eight players who are one booking away from a suspension and would miss the crucial qualifier against Mexico in Columbus next Tuesday. They are Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones.

(MORE: Questions linger in US camp over Clint Dempsey’s fitness ahead of tonight’s qualifier against Costa Rica)

Costa Rica have gone 3-0-1 since that disputed defeat to the US, posting four straight shutouts in the process. Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio is Ticos danger man, with seven goals in WC qualifying so far.

You can watch the game live on BeIN Sport at 10pm ET, and we will have all the team news, reaction and analysis right here at NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klinsmann on having a Mexican ref, with 8 players one yellow away from a suspension: “We’re not holding back by any means. It [the players with yellow cards] doesn’t [affect] our lineup. It’s about Costa Rica. It’s about that game, and whatever happens on Friday night, we will adjust then to the Mexico game. I don’t doubt that Marco Antonio Rodriguez is a great referee. But at the same time, there is something I can’t get out of my head. I have eight players with a yellow card, and four days later we face Mexico. Truthfully, I don’t like this.”

Costa Rican coach Jorge Luis Pinto: “If we have to get one, two or four cards, we are going to get them and forget about everything else. I want our team to go into this match with our blood running hot but with cool heads. [Anger over the loss] is part of soccer. This feeling that the country has transmitted we are all feeling. It is a historic moment for us. We have to have control of the match at all times.”

Graham Zusi on the passionate Costa Rican fans: “We expected that. This is a country passionate about its team. … This all makes it more exciting for us. It will be a battle, but I think we can take advantage of our momentum and do our job here.”

Prediction

After months of build up, the USA can take a huge stride towards sealing World Cup qualification this evening down in Costa Rica. A win and other results going their way could see Klinsmann’s side celebrating a berth in Brazil but more likely a solid point then a victory against Mexico next week would do the job. I think this will be a tight game, just like the matchup in Denver, and the USA will snatch a precious draw to antagonize the home crowd further.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.