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U.S. is in hostile territory for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica

United States Coach Juergen Klinsmann watches as players practice at National Stadium in San Jose, Costa Rica.
United States Coach Juergen Klinsmann watches as players practice at National Stadium in San Jose, Costa Rica.
(Moises Castillo / Associated Press)

The last time the U.S. men’s national soccer team came to Costa Rica for a World Cup qualifier, it was greeted at the airport by a large, unruly crowd that hurled insults and eggs at the team bus.

Dozens more angry fans waited outside the team hotel.

No local club would allow the Americans to use their practice facilities so the U.S. trained at a dairy factory, where Coach Juergen Klinsmann was harassed by a mascot in a cow costume toting an air horn.

That was three years ago. And though there was no sign of Lulu — that’s the cow’s name — and her air horn in the first 24 hours of this week’s trip, Klinsmann isn’t letting his guard down.

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“It’s more the unpredictable that you face here,” the coach said Monday. “That makes it more difficult. Not knowing what to expect.”

The U.S. has come to expect the worst in Costa Rica, where it hasn’t won a World Cup qualifier in nine tries, the last eight ending in losses. That’s a three-decade slide Klinsmann’s team will be out to end Tuesday in the second game of CONCACAF’s six-team qualifying tournament for Russia 2018 (TV: 6 p.m. PT, beIN SPORTS, NBC Universo).

“History is just that. History, right?,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “There’s nothing anybody can do to change that. And quite honestly, we don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about it. You take each game as it comes.”

Still, anything short of a victory for the U.S., which lost last week’s opener to Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, will mean even more history since the Americans have never lost the first two games in the hexagonal round.

That’s not the only challenge facing the U.S., though. Klinsmann will also be without first-choice goalkeeper Tim Howard, who left the Mexico game late in the first half because of a thigh muscle injury that will require surgery. He will be replaced by Brad Guzan.

Then there’s the Costa Rican team, which made it to the World Cup quarterfinals two years ago and last week won its qualifying opener over Trinidad and Tobago on second-half goals from MLS players Christian Bolanos (Vancouver) and Ronald Matarrita (New York City).

Finally, there’s the crowd. San Jose’s 35,175-seat Estadio Nacional sold out six hours after tickets to Tuesday’s game went on sale last summer, and over the weekend scalpers were doing a brisk business on the streets around the 5-year-old stadium, a $110-million gift from the Chinese government.

“I remember the last game against the United States here. It was definitely loud,” Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas said in Spanish. “When they support us like that, it’s something incredible.

“We expect that from them.”

So do the Americans.

“This is a very, very difficult place to play,” Bradley said.

But then playing on the road anywhere in the region is tough, which is why the U.S. has won only eight of 25 road games in the hexagonal round since 1998. Klinsmann can take solace from two things, though: the visiting team won all three qualifying openers last week and despite losing its home game to Mexico, the U.S. dominated the last 60 minutes.

“It’s just the second game in a long path towards Russia. …And we lost the first one,” he said. “After you lose a game, you want to correct that right away.

“Where we can take a lot of confidence is the second half against Mexico. If we can play with the same determination, aggressiveness and tempo we played [with] in the second half in Columbus, then I’m very, very confident we’ll get a result.”


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