Donovan warns teammates to be prepared for Costa Rica
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Landon Donovan has a message for the younger players on the U.S. team preparing for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Saprissa Stadium.
The surface is artificial turf, the fans are intimidating and the Americans have lost all six of their qualifiers at the venue.
"Until you play in a game like this there's not a whole lot you can tell people," Donovan said. "I know in my first game (in Costa Rica) the older players said a lot to me, but until you play in it you don't understand."
Donovan and Clint Dempsey are expected to lead the attack with Tim Howard to start in goal.
The Americans are strong favorites to make it to next year's World Cup in South Africa, and coach Bob Bradley hopes the match at Costa Rica -- and another against Honduras on Saturday in Chicago -- will showcase his team's strength.
Dempsey, a key forward with English club Fulham, will be expected to produce offense.
"He's (Dempsey) one of a number of guys that after 2006 I think we challenged to take bigger roles, to take responsibility, to see the picture of what the team is all about and not just be thinking about what's good for them, so yes, I do think his role has grown," Bradley said.
Dempsey has 13 goals in 49 appearances for the U.S., including four in an important four-match span in World Cup qualifying last year. He put the U.S. ahead just 53 seconds in and added another as the Americans opened with an 8-0 rout of Barbados, got the lone goal as the U.S. won its first game at Cuba since 1947, then scored in a 3-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago.
The United States tops CONCACAF qualifying with 7 points, followed by Costa Rica (6), Honduras (4), Mexico (3), El Salvador (2) and Trinidad and Tobago (2). The top three teams advance automatically to the World Cup.
The Costa Rica-U.S. match is the only qualifier on Wednesday. The game was moved forward to give the United States more travel time en route to the Confederations Cup this month in South Africa.
Three other CONCACAF qualifiers are set for Saturday -- Trinidad and Tobago vs. Costa Rica, El Salvador vs. Mexico, and the United States vs. Honduras. On June 10, it's: Honduras vs. El Salvador, and Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago.
Bradley has not announced his lineup, but the U.S. is almost sure to start Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra on defense in front of Howard. Michael Bradley will be in midfield, linking with Dempsey, Donovan and most likely Brian Ching.
After this there are questions at right and left back, in the midfield and speculation about whether 19-year-old striker Jozy Altidore will play. He scored three goals in the last qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago, but has been out since undergoing toe surgery in April.
The major U.S. absence will be right back Frankie Hejduk, out with a groin injury. The U.S. has also left behind midfielder Maurice Edu, who injured a knee in Glasgow Rangers' final league game of the season on May 24.
West Ham's Jonathan Spector and Toronto's Marvell Wynne are the top candidates to fill in at right back.
"In both cases we feel the players have had good experiences along the way with some of our youth teams," Bradley said. "Certainly Marvell benefited a great deal from his Olympic experience last summer. Jonathan, playing in the (English) Premiership, has seen what it's like to come up against great players playing in difficult environments."
Costa Rica coach Rodrigo Kenton has called up a mix of veterans and youth. They include key playmaker Walter Centeno and Harold Wallace -- who played in the last two World Cups -- and newcomers at forward like Celso Borges and Bryan Ruiz.
"Our style so far has gotten us results, and we are not going to change," Kenton said. "We'll stick with our model -- four or five attacking and the rest well organized at the back."