VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Take nothing for granted. That has been the mantra for the U.S. women's national team ever since the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament began. And you can't argue with the results. The U.S. has smashed opponents like guitars to the tune of a combined score line of 31-0 in three games.
So when Friday's semifinal against Costa Rica kicks off -- a winner-take-all match that will determine if the U.S. goes to the Olympics this summer or watches them on television – don't expect the Americans to change a thing. It doesn't matter that Costa Rica looked overwhelmed in its last group stage game, a 5-1 defeat to hosts Canada. It doesn't matter how many goals the U.S. has scored so far. The Americans' only focus is taking care of business on Friday.
"You can look back, and gain confidence," said U.S. manager Pia Sundhage. "You can look forward and dream of that goal [of the Olympics]. But you have to be here, and respect everything going on right here."
That's why after Tuesday's 4-0 victory over rivals Mexico, a victory that avenged a World Cup qualifying loss 14 months ago, star striker Abby Wambach gathered her teammates at midfield to remind them that "we haven't done anything yet." The Americans' respect for Costa Rica could be heard in the voice of goalkeeper Hope Solo as well.
"You can't overlook any team, and the fact of the matter is their one goal against Canada was world-class," Solo said. "It was a world-class finish, a world-class touch, great service in, and a great finish against a great goalkeeper and a great back line. If they can score one goal, I'm sure they have more in them."
The fact remains, however, that the U.S. has matchup advantages all over the field. Defensively, the U.S. should have little trouble containing the Costa Rica attack, one that has quickness, but whose forwards struggled to hold up the ball against a big, physical Canadian side last Monday. Out wide, right midfielder Heather O'Reilly should have an absolute field day against a back line that isn't adept at preventing service into the box.
But the most glaring disparity will be in the Costa Rica penalty area, where U.S. striker Abby Wambach and attacking midfielder Lauren Cheney should reign supreme. Costa Rica struggled mightily to deal with the barrage of crosses Canada sent in, and Canadian striker Christine Sinclair ran riot, recording two goals and an assist.
Wambach should have a similar level of success. The only problem according to Sundhage is holding back her star striker from trying to do too much. "It's a balance," said Sundhage. "Sometimes, [Wambach] wants to help the team so badly that I have to tell her, 'Chill out. Take it easy.' But she has the biggest heart."
Costa Rica head coach Karla Aleman is well aware of the challenge that lies in front of her squad. She delivered the line of the tournament on Monday when in response to the question of whether it was possible to beat the U.S., she said, "You can't block the sun with a finger." Not that she expects her team to lie down for the Americans.
"[The U.S.] has very experienced players who know how to play from memory, very fast," said Aleman with the help of a translator. "We're going to try to stay firm, and focus on keeping our concentration."
To that end, it seems likely that Costa Rica will start with the same lineup that finished the game against Canada. After watching her defense struggle with Canada's aerial game in the first half, Aleman pushed central defender Fabiola Sanchez into midfield and brought in the taller Carol Sanchez to anchor the back line. While it could be argued that Canada took its foot off the gas, Costa Rica looked much more secure in the back in the second half.
That likely won't be near enough to stop the U.S. juggernaut. Then again, it's Sundhage's nature not to take things for granted. After all, we're talking about someone who as a youth growing up in Sweden played on a boys' team, under an assumed name, for two years because back then girls weren't allowed to play soccer.
But Sundhage managed to go through a list of concerns. Solo is battling a quadriceps strain and may have to be replaced by Nicole Barnhart. Costa Rica will have an extra day of rest heading into the match. Wambach continues to cope with Achilles tendinitis, and appeared to lack some jump in her legs on Tuesday.
Wambach insisted she is ready to go, although Solo was a bit more circumspect. She stated that if it were up to her, she would play, but would accept whatever decision Sundhage made.
"Honestly, we have to do what's best for the team," said Solo. "This isn't a friendly, this isn't the Algarve tournament where you get more subs, and nobody wants to waste a sub on a goalkeeper when we need to get players minutes. Pia needs to make a smart decision as well. They don't want to see me back there grimacing and holding my leg."
Either way, it won't matter. The U.S. is too talented, too sharp, and most importantly, too motivated to let this chance pass by. The Americans will heed London's call.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national teams for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at email@example.com.