Everyone talks about the USA-Mexico rivalry, but the biggest rivalry in the Hexagonal -- at least in terms of traveling fans -- will be Panama-Costa Rica.
About 4,500 Ticos are expected to cross the border at Paso Canoas and travel to Panama City for Wednesday's game.
Eleven buses carrying Costa Rican fans crossed the border on Monday, and another 40 are expected to cross on Tuesday, forcing Costa Rica officials to add extra personnel at the border crossing and have them report for work at 2 a.m.
The Hexagonal is a big deal in Costa Rica, the only country besides the USA and Mexico to have played in every Concacaf final six.
While the USA and Mexico have qualified for the World Cup every time, finishing no lower than third, the Ticos qualified for the 2002 and 2006 finals and finished fourth in the other two Hexagonals.
Costa Rica would have taken third in 2009 and secured an automatic berth to South Africa '10, but a goal four minutes into stoppage time from Jonathan Bornstein secured the USA a 2-2 with the Ticos.
The result was meaningless to the USA, which had qualified four days earlier in Honduras, but the Ticos needed the win to finish ahead of Honduras. Instead, they went into a continental playoff, where they lost to Uruguay.
Optimism is high in Costa Rica, which just won the Copa Centroamericana for the seventh time. But Coach Jorge Luis Pinto is taking no chances.
To everyone's surprise, he called up Douglas Sequeira last week for the Panama game even though the 35-year-old midfielder has not played for the Ticos in more than two years and already announced plans to retire after the spring season.
Sequeira, who played in MLS for Real Salt Lake, says Pinto told him he needs him in midfield for what is expected to be a very physical game against Panama.
WHY THE USA SHOULD BE CONFIDENT. The 2-2 tie at Washington's RFK Stadium in 2009 was the only time the USA failed to beat Costa Rica at home in the Hexagonal. It won the other three home games, all by shutouts: 1-0, 1-0 and 3-0.
WHY THE USA SHOULD BE WORRIED. Except Mexico, there's no place where the USA has struggled more than at Costa Rica. The USA has lost all four away games to the Ticos in the Hexagonal: 3-2, 2-0, 3-0 and 3-1. Add two more losses in Costa Rica in the semifinal round of qualifying in 1996 and 2000 -- after the 2-1 loss in 2000 Coach Bruce Arena was suspended for three games for going off on Peter Prendergast after the Jamaican referee awarded a dubious penalty to the home team in stoppage time -- and you get can see why the USA loved it when the Ticos moved out of fan-friendly Estadio Saprissa in 2011 for the new Estadio Nacional constructed by Chinese workers.
WHO YOU ALREADY KNOW. Alvaro Saborio, who captained Costa Rica to the Copa Centroamericana title, is among four MLS players in the Ticos' squad that will face Panama. Pinto also called up Roy Miller (New York), Rodney Wallace (Portland) and Jairo Arrieta (Columbus). Michael Umana, who had stints in MLS with Los Angeles and Chivas USA, was also called up.
WHO YOU'LL SOON KNOW. Arsenal signed forward Joel Campbell in 2011 and loaned him to first Lorient in France and then Real Betis. At 20, he is considered the best young striker Costa Rica has produced since Paulo Wanchope, who spent five seasons in England. Two other Ticos play for EPL clubs. Bryan Ruiz, who scored the two goals for Costa Rica in the 2-2 tie in 2009, plays for Fulham, while 22-year-old defender Bryan Oviedo is in his first season at Everton.
Day 1: Feb. 6 at Panama (TV: beIN Sport, beIn Sport en Espanol, 9 p.m. ET).
U.S. Series: Day 2 -- March 22: USA vs. Costa Rica in Commerce City, Colo.; Day 7 -- Sept. 5: Costa Rica vs. USA at site TBD.
COSTA RICA ROSTER (Panama game):
Goalkeepers: Keilor Navas (Levante, Spain), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense)
Defenders: Jose Salvatierra (Alajuelense), Christian Gamboa (Rosenborg, Norway), Michael Umana (Saprissa), Johnny Acosta (Sinaloa, Mexico), Geancarlo Gonzalez (Valerenga, Norway), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls), Bryan Oviedo (Everton, England), Christopher Meneses (Alajuelense)
Midfielders: Celso Borges (AIK, Sweden), Osvaldo Rodriguez (Guapiles), Cristian Bolanos (FC Copenhagen, Denmark), Ariel Rodriguez (Perez Zeledon), Douglas Sequeira (Saprissa), Michael Barrantes (Aalesund, Norway), Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers).
Forwards: Randall Brenes (Cartago), Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Joel Campbell (Real Betis, Spain), Jairo Arrieta (Columbus Crew), Bryan Ruiz (Fulham, England).
Previously: Mexico | Jamaica | Panama
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This gives me a chance to write what I wanted to when I was surprised to read that the group Klinsmann had called in for the Honduras match did not include Benny Feilhaber. I thought he was the best of the desultory team that played Canada to a 0-0 tie last week.
I like Feilhaber as well.
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