WASHINGTON: No Costa Rican team has won a World Cup qualifier on US soil in 24 years but the Ticos must end that drought Wednesday to ensure themselves a berth in the 2010 South Africa World Cup.
North American regional qualifying for next year's global football showdown ends Wednesday with the Americans and Mexico having already secured berths and Costa Rica fighting Honduras for the region's last automatic World Cup spot.
The US squad sets the pace with 19 points off six wins and a draw in nine matches, although one of their losses came 3-1 at Costa Rica in June. Mexico, which visits eliminated Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday, is next on 18.
The Ticos are next at 5-4 for 15 points with Honduras at 4-4 with a draw for 13 points. Honduras will travel to "Soccer War" border rival El Salvador on Wednesday needing a victory to have any hope of taking the automatic berth.
Costa Rica would clinch a trip to South Africa with a victory but a draw or loss opens the door for Honduras, which would have a superior goal difference and get the nod with a victory combined with a Ticos draw at Washington.
Neither team will see their World Cup dream die but CONCACAF's fourth-place team faces a two-leg playoff against the fifth-place side from South America to determine a World Cup berth.
"It's very important for us to qualify for the World Cup by taking care of our business without having to worry about other results," 35-year-old Ticos defender Luis Marin said.
Ticos coach Rene Simoes, a Brazilian who formerly guided Jamaica, took over after Rodrigo Kenton was fired after three losses in a row. Costa Rica won 4-0 Saturday at Trinidad and Tobago but Simoes knows his next foe is formidable.
"The US team knows how to control a match very intelligently," Simoes said.
Credit US coach Bob Bradley with providing the US squad with the instinct and discipline to seize command.
"It has been a long learning process and we really came together, stayed disciplined, played very mature," US star Landon Donovan said. "And different guys have stepped up each time. Those are all things he instilled in us."
The Americans won 3-2 on Saturday at Honduras to join Brazil, Italy, Spain, Germany and South Korea as the only teams to reach six World Cups in a row.
"I'm so glad we got it over with," US goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "Hopefully the sky is the limit for us. We've played some big games in the last few years. I'm hoping we go down there and we're not afraid of what they throw at us."
Donovan recalled a disappointing winless run and first-round World Cup exit in 2006 at Germany and is happy for the chance at redemption next year.
"It feels great to qualify," Donovan said. "We had a very disappointing 2006 and we don't want to go through that again. I'm a person who likes to live in the moment but if you don't learn from what happened then you get nothing out of it.
"I've learned a lot and I hope we have too."
The Americans, likely without injured Clint Dempsey, face a Costa Rican side featuring striker Alvaro Saborio and Esteban Sirias as well as several veteran players Simoes brought back to the national side to salvage the qualifying bid.
A US victory is likely necessary for the Americans to top the group with Mexico visiting an ousted Trinidad and Tobago side that has won only once in qualifying.