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U.S. hopes to extend unbeaten World Cup qualifier run against Costa Rica

Brad Guzan reflects on the United States' 14-match unbeaten run entering two crucial World Cup qualifying matches.
As qualifying winds down, Bruce Arena says the U.S. are still a long way from Russia, but hopes experience helps his team.
Bruce Arena says he's confident all 26 U.S. players in his latest squad can make an impact against Costa Rica and Honduras.

The United States will try to move closer to securing a place in the 2018 World Cup when it hosts Costa Rica on Friday in a CONCACAF qualifier -- the first competitive game the team has held in the New York area in eight years.

Three teams will qualify automatically from the North America region, and with four games remaining in the final round, known as the Hexagonal, Costa Rica is in second place and the U.S. is in third.

Either team could clinch an appearance in the World Cup during the upcoming week, though the U.S. would need considerable help. While Costa Rica will qualify with victories over the U.S. and Mexico, which is currently atop the six-team table, the U.S. would need to win both games, have Mexico defeat Panama and have Trinidad & Tobago tie Honduras and win at Panama.

Regardless of other results, the U.S. would qualify for the World Cup with a victory in each of its next three games. Historically, the magic number to qualify has been 15 points, as 14 of the 15 teams to earn at least 15 points in the Hexagonal have finished in the top three.

The top three teams in the Hexagonal automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

The game, which will be played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, is the first to be held as part of a competitive tournament in the greater New York area since the U.S. lost to Mexico in the Gold Cup final in nearby East Rutherford in 2009.

It will be the fourth international game involving the U.S. at the stadium and the first since a 1-0 loss by the U.S. to Costa Rica in a friendly on Oct. 13, 2015.

The last time the two teams met in a World Cup qualifier, on Nov. 15 in Costa Rica, the hosts claimed a 4-0 victory -- the largest margin of defeat for the U.S. in the competition since 1980 and its worst shutout loss in qualifying since 1957.

That led to the end of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as the U.S. coach and the return of Bruce Arena, who guided the team from 1998 to 2006. Arena, appointed for the second time on Nov. 22, is unbeaten in the 14 games since his return -- two games shy of matching the second-longest unbeaten run in team history.

After going winless in the first two games of the Hexagonal for the first time, the U.S. is unbeaten in its past four games, winning twice at home and drawing twice on the road.

The U.S. has a 68 percent chance of defeating Costa Rica, according to FiveThirtyEight's Soccer Power Index (SPI).

The U.S. also claimed a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica in the Gold Cup semifinals on July 22, with Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey scoring goals. All 22 starters from that game are on the teams' current rosters, as are two of each team's three substitutes.

The last World Cup qualifier held between the teams in the United States was the famed "SnowClasico," held in suburban Denver in March 2013 and won 1-0 by the U.S. on a Dempsey goal in the 16th minute.

The U.S. is unbeaten in its past eight World Cup qualifiers at home against Costa Rica, including six victories, and has not lost to Costa Rica in its past 17 competitive home games. Including friendlies, the U.S. has won 15 of its 24 home games all-time against Costa Rica -- with only five losses -- and the teams have split the all-time series, with each winning 15 of the 36 games they've played.

Dempsey, who has scored in his last four games against Costa Rica, could surpass Landon Donovan's team record of 57 international goals should he score on Friday.

Cristiano Ronaldo, David Villa and Lionel Messi are the only active players with more international goals than Clint Dempsey.

His 51 non-penalty goals are already the most in team history, as are his 18 World Cup qualifying goals. Though his 137 appearances leave him third behind Cobi Jones (164) and Donovan (157) in team history, an appearance on Friday would be Dempsey's 40th in a World Cup qualifier and move him past Donovan for the most all-time.

Jozy Altidore's nine goals in the Hexagonal are the most in team history, one ahead of Dempsey, though his goal in the Gold Cup semis was his first goal in his nine games against Costa Rica.

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