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U.S. soccer faces challenges in Costa Rica even before qualifier

September 06, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • Landon Donovan and his U.S. soccer teammates run during a training session Thursday ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match with Costa Rica on Friday night in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Landon Donovan and his U.S. soccer teammates run during a training session… (Moises Castillo / Associated…)

You couldn't blame the U.S. national soccer team if it got out of Costa Rica as soon as possible after Friday night's World Cup qualifier in San Jose. Since the moment the U.S. team arrived Tuesday, the Costa Ricans have proven to be inhospitable hosts.

Which isn't to say the Central Americans don't have reason to be unwelcoming.

The U.S., which sits atop the six-team table in regional qualifying after six matches, can clinch a berth in next summer's World Cup with a victory. But Costa Rican fans believe that should be the fate awaiting their team -- and it might have been had the Central Americans not lost a 1-0 decision to the U.S. in Colorado in March in a game played through a blizzard.

Costa Ricans still blame the U.S. for orchestrating that result, with fans chanting "No fair play, USA" at the American team upon its arrival in San Jose.

"That was not our fault. I didn't call God to give us some snow," U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. "It was difficult for both teams to play that game but I think you have now a situation, Costa Rica [with] 11 points, close to the World Cup, we have 13 points, close to the World Cup. We both want to get there and I think it's going to be exciting."

At the airport the Americans were forced to endure long lines at customs and immigration rather than being fast-tracked through the process as is customary (the Costa Ricans were not given special treatment on their winter visit to the U.S.). Then the team bus was pelted with eggs on its way to the hotel.

During the week the three training sites suggested by the Costa Rican soccer federation refused to allow the U.S. access -- the team eventually wound up practicing at a dairy where someone dressed as cow in a soccer uniform repeatedly tried to harass Klinsmann by blowing an air horn during a TV interview.

Game balls the Costa Rican federation was supposed to deliver the U.S. team never arrived and on Thursday fans, organized on social media, gathered outside the team hotel to serenade the players as they tried to sleep.

Another social media campaign, this one involving taxi drivers, was being arranged in an attempt to clog the streets Friday afternoon, delaying the team's arrival at the stadium -- where more than 800 police will be deployed to keep order.

At least one U.S. player refused to criticize the gamesmanship, however.

"I love it," the Galaxy's Landon Donovan told FoxSports.com. "You'd much rather play in front of a lot of people that care than a few people that don't."

But if simply getting to the field is a struggle, things may not get much better for the Americans once they're there since Mexican referee Marco Antonio Rodriguez has been assigned to officiate the match. One of the most experienced referees in CONCACAF, Rodriguez also has a well-earned reputation for handing out yellow cards -- not a good prospect for a U.S. team with eight players carrying yellow cards. Another caution Friday would keep those players out of Tuesday's qualifier with Mexico in Columbus, Ohio.

"I don't doubt that Marco Antonio Rodriguez is a great referee," Klinsmann told ESPN radio "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."

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