SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Despite being able to lose by five goals or fewer against Costa Rica Wednesday and still qualify for the World Cup, coach Gregg Berhalter and players for the United States men's national team maintain their intent to win remains unaffected.
Few players remain from the group that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the lesson remains.
"Obviously, we're in a great situation and we know that, but I think going into the Trinidad game we thought we were in a good situation as well," said right-back DeAndre Yedlin, one of four players, along with Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta, on the current roster who played in the notorious loss to Trinidad and Tobago in 2017 that kept the team out of the last World Cup.
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It would take an even larger disaster for the U.S. to miss out this time around. The Americans have not lost by six goals or more since a 6-0 loss to France in a friendly in 1979.
The incentive to qualify is paired with the possibility of making history in Costa Rica, where the team is 0-9-2 all-time in World Cup qualifying. In the last qualifying cycle, the USMNT lost 4-0 at Costa Rica, which prompted the dismissal of coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
"We're in a position right now where history sort of speaks where we can come to Costa Rica and get the first win in the qualification process for the national team," midfielder Tyler Adams said. "So, for us it's, again, putting a checkmark next to something that no other team has done.
"We've had this game-by-game mentality and some of the stipulations come with it that we can be one of the first teams to do this and have that accomplishment."
With one game left, Canada (28 points) is the lone team in CONCACAF that has officially qualified. The U.S. and Mexico (25 each) are just about there, due to their advantage over Costa Rica (22 points) on goal differential.
The top three finishers in CONCACAF automatically qualify for the Qatar World Cup, while the fourth-place team heads to a one-game playoff against the winner of the Oceania Confederation (New Zealand or Solomon Islands) in June.
Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez faces and interesting dilemma. The Ticos have nine players on yellow cards and if any of them receive a yellow card against the USMNT, they would -- assuming they finish fourth in CONCACAF -- be suspended for the playoff. That situation raises the possibility that Costa Rica will sit its best players to secure their availability in the playoff.
"It's not going to change by tomorrow, but it's a dumb rule," Berhalter said. "We go 14 rounds and if a guy gets a yellow in first round the 14th round, they sit out the biggest game? It doesn't make sense and I feel for either us or Costa Rica, who will have to deal with that.
"We're projecting that they are going to play their best lineup, that they're going to go for it, but it may change. We have all their players identified on their roster. We've scouted all their players and scouted potential changes."
Right-back Reggie Cannon returned to the U.S. squad Tuesday, Berhalter said, and was set to practice with the team. He missed the last two games against Mexico and Panama after testing positive for COVID-19.