U.S. game plan for Costa Rica 

March, 22, 2013

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- How do you win a must-win game?

After a hellish week for the U.S. national team -- one in which injuries and off-field drama have been the talking points -- stepping onto the field tonight against Costa Rica will come as a relief, but only temporarily. Anything less than three points against the Ticos, plus the pressure heading into Tuesday's grudge match in Mexico City, will be overwhelming.

With that in mind, expect Jurgen Klinsmann's team to come out flying Friday night. With little room for error, the game plan is to put the visitors on their heels early.

"We'd obviously like to get a high tempo and keep the rhythm going and move forward quickly with passing the ball," the U.S. coach told reporters at a news conference on the eve of the match. "We obviously want to get the crowd behind [us] and create energy and create chances. Again, going back to the must-win situation at home games, the only way to do that is attacking and score goals."

To score those goals, the U.S. needs to be efficient when those chances come. Klinsmann hinted that Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey would be starting at forward, possibly alongside Herculez Gomez in a 4-3-3 formation. Playing his three main scoring threats in an aggressive setup is smart, but it's not without risk -- especially given the U.S. squad's depleted back line. As important as getting on the board early would be for the hosts, keeping the visitors' dangerous front line of Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz at bay for the first 45 minutes is equally crucial for the Americans.

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