You have a six-pack of beer and some chips and salsa. You have some friends over. And your face is painted red, white and blue (Costa Rica or the U.S., it doesn’t matter, they’re both the same colors). And then you realize: I don’t know a damn thing about what’s happening tonight.
Here’s the simple guide to tonight’s all-important match-up between Costa Rica and the United States:
I don’t know much about soccer. Give me the basics:
The United States Men’s National Team will take on Costa Rica’s National Team, known as "La Sele," in the National Stadium at 8 p.m. Costa Rica time. That’s 10 p.m. Eastern Time.
This will be a rowdy World Cup qualifying match. Both teams are fighting for the top spot in Concacaf. And Costa Rica is also looking for revenge after losing to the U.S., 1-0, in Denver last March. The game took place during a blizzard, and La Sele and their fans were none too pleased that the game wasn’t postponed.
Can I watch the match on TV?
In Costa Rica, the match will be televised on channels 6 and 7. In the United States, the game will be on beIN. If you’re wondering why the game is on a station you’ve never heard of, it’s because the Al-Jazeera-affiliated sports network has the rights to all U.S. World Cup qualifying away games.
beIN is covering most of the Concacaf qualifiers.
You keep saying Concacaf. What is that?
Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. What a mouthful. Do you mind if we go back to saying Concacaf?
So this sounds like an important game. What’s at stake?
A lot is on the line. More so, for Costa Rica. The top three teams in the Concacaf region automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Four matches remain in qualifying. Of the six teams still competing, the U.S. leads the standings with 13 points. Costa Rica remains in 2nd place with 11 points. If Costa Rica wins Friday night, they’ll be in excellent shape to clinch its first World Cup spot since 2006. A loss makes them vulnerable to Mexico and Honduras (and even fifth place Panama).
The streaking U.S. team, winners of a team record 12 in a row, appear on their way to Brazil no matter what happens tonight. But a win tonight could potentially seal the deal.
Leander Schaerlaeckens, of FoxSports, laid it all out in a tweet today: “If the USA wins on Friday and Mexico, Honduras and Panama don't, they clinch.” (Mexico and Honduras play each other tonight, so they need to tie. Panama takes on lowly Jamaica.)
If Costa Rica doesn’t finish in the top 3, does that mean they’re not going to Brazil?
The fourth place team actually can qualify. Finishing fourth, gets you a date with New Zealand in a playoff (one home game, one away game) for one last World Cup spot. Costa Rica would prefer to avoid this fate. In 2010, the team finished fourth and faced Uruguay in the playoff. The Uruguayans easily disposed of the Ticos (and went on to finish fourth overall in the World Cup). While New Zealand is no Uruguay, traveling to Oceania for a match is an adventure nobody in would Concacaf desire.
So what’s the deal with the “Snow Game”?
Fans of the Costa Rican national team, known have stewed for months over the last time the U.S. and Costa Rica met in a World Cup qualifying match. In a blizzard, the U.S. defeated the Ticos in Colorado. Members of the Costa Rican squad said after the game they thought the match should’ve been postponed. They protested the result to FIFA, but the Costa Rican Football Association (Fedefut) made some protocol mistakes and the “protest” was denied. Supporters felt cheated out of crucial World Cup points.
And so now Costa Rica wants vengeance?
Yes, both fans and Fedefut have been involved in some gamesmanship with the U.S. team. Fedeful didn’t provide official soccer balls to the U.S. team at their first practice. The association denied press passes to The Tico Times (and according to members of their press office, international English-language media like Bloomberg and CNN too). Fans have tossed eggs at the U.S. team bus and tried to organize a traffic jam with taxi drivers so the squad wouldn’t arrive to the stadium on time (although that traffic jam might’ve been just normal San José traffic). A cow trolled the U.S. head coach.
Even Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla has bragged about how the government won’t provide special escort service for the U.S. team to the game.
But there’s already been enough written on the topic.
Andrew Keh, of the New York Times, has a good rundown on the gamesmanship we’ve seen so far from Costa Rica since the U.S. arrived in the country three days ago.
Deadspin has a more profane breakdown with photos and videos of the “trolling.”
Or listen to Keith Olbermann’s rant on ESPN.
Do Costa Ricans have a right to be angry?
To be fair, most Ticos understand vengeance will come on the pitch not by harassing the opposition while they’re in their hotel room.
But back to the question at hand, both teams had to play in the same snowy conditions although the United States fought hard to keep the game from ending.
U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has had to answer billions of questions on the snow game.
Said Klinsmann on Wednesday: “That was not our fault. I didn’t call God to give us some snow.”
Will any of this gamesmanship matter?
Eh, not really and it’s all perfectly legal. We’d like to be at the game, but that’s what scalpers for. These are two fascinating teams, and rain nor snow nor tossed eggs will have a great affect on the match. Expect a tight match between the defensive-minded Ticos (led by stars Alvaro Saborío and Bryan Ruiz and goaltender Keylor Navas) versus Klinsmann’s fast-paced U.S. squad (who will be energized by the return of Landon Donovan to the national team).
Wait actually, there was one piece of gamesmanship that almost mattered.
Fedefut tried to move the match to Ricardo Saprissa Stadium, a place where Costa Rica has dominated the Gringos. In that stadium, the fans are right on top of the players and the noise can be deafening. The U.S. enters tonight's game 0-7-1 in qualifying matches in Costa Rica. In the newer Estadio Nacional (built as a gift by the Chinese in 2011), a track divides the fans from the pitch.
FIFA denied Fedefut’s request to move the match back to Saprissa Stadium. The U.S. team sounded pleased about the decision.
Said midfielder Michael Bradley: We're all happy not to play there. The turf there is terrible — there's no two ways to put that.”
Oh, also the turf in Saprissa is terrible. Even worse than snow.
Enjoy the match.