Supporting cast must step up for U.S. 

March, 19, 2013

As much as the national team's woefully depleted back line is the obvious talking point heading into Friday's must-win qualifier against Costa Rica, the short-handed Americans' chances of beating the Ticos will depend largely on how they perform farther up the field.

It's clear that with projected starters Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler out -- and with Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan and Danny Williams also missing -- veteran stars Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey will have to step up.

The timing isn't great for either player.

Bradley has been relegated to a sub's role at Roma in recent weeks. Dempsey just returned from injury. For a team in dire straits, neither development is ideal.

The good news for Jurgen Klinsmann's squad is that the Americans' supporting cast rarely has been better heading into a World Cup qualifier.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.