It should go without mentioning that every World Cup qualifier is an important match until qualification is secured. But Friday night’s match against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., has added importance on so many levels.
“We have to flip one of the results that happened in November,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard, referring to a 4-0 away loss that left the United States with zero points after two matches followed by four months of inactivity withe the exception of friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica.
Captain Michael Bradley had this to say:
“We all understand that getting to a World Cup is pass or fail. … It’s our responsibility as players to step on the field and make sure that we find the right ways to do whatever it takes to qualify. We’ve turned it around in the right ways, and we’ve got to make sure we finish the job. I think we have a group of guys who are excited, who realize that the path of this last year has made us stronger and better. Now it’s on us to make sure that we can finish the job and allow ourselves a chance to look forward to playing at a World Cup next summer.”
Another reason that a win on Friday is important, if you are into analytics, is the ESPN Soccer Power Index (SPI). According to the index, a win for the USA would give them a 96 percent chance of advancing to the World Cup next summer while a loss puts those chances at just 80 percent.
The United States sits on eight points after six matches in the Hex. Traditionally, 16 points is the magic number for automatic qualification (finishing in the top three). A loss on Friday would leave the USA with three almost must win games, something they would like to avoid.
To top it off this is the first time that the USMNT has played a meaningful match in the New York City area in the 104-year history of US Soccer, aside from three knockout games in the Gold Cup tournaments in 2005 and ’09 in East Rutherford, N.J. A World Cup qualifier against a difficult opponent such as Costa Rica is a different story. It is truly amazing that Friday’s match will be the first of its kind in the largest metropolitan area in the United States.
“We wanted to play qualifying games in venues where would have a pro-U.S. crowd,” said US Soccer president Sunil Gulati on Monday.
This recent article on SI.com by Grant Wahl does an excellent job of explaining how US Soccer is doing its best to make that happen.
“Nearly 4,000 of the stadium’s 25,189 tickets were issued to the American Outlaws, the biggest U.S. supporters group, which will have members flying in from around the country for the game. To try to ensure a pro-U.S. crowd on Friday, U.S. Soccer also held a ticket presale with several groups: U.S. Soccer members (a paid program that includes presale access as a benefit); season ticket holders for the New York Red Bulls, NYCFC and the New York Cosmos; U.S. Soccer sponsors; state association members in the immediate New York and New Jersey areas; and individuals on U.S. Soccer social media accounts.”
Lets see if the strategy works. I’ll be there, will you?