AFP, NEW YORK: United States captain Michael Bradley has called on his team-mates to finish the job as they aim to take a giant stride towards the 2018 World Cup with victory over Costa Rica on Friday.
The Americans have gradually hauled themselves back into the CONCACAF qualifying fray after a rocky start which included a 4-0 drubbing by the Costa Ricans in San Jose last November.
That humiliating defeat led to the dismissal of former coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the return of veteran Bruce Arena shortly afterwards.
The US have been undefeated since the return of Arena, a run that included victory in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July as well as a battling 1-1 away draw against Mexico in June.
Mexico, who face Panama on Friday, lead the six-team round robin final qualification table with 14 points from six games.
Costa Rica are second with 11 points while the US occupy the third automatic qualification spot with eight points.
A win over Costa Rica at New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena on Friday would see the Americans draw level on points with “Los Ticos”, and potentially move four points clear of fourth-placed Panama.
It is a far cry from the mood last November, when an opening loss against Mexico was followed by the mauling against Costa Rica to leave the US languishing at the foot of the standings with zero points.
Bradley has urged his team to mount one final push as they attempt to seal an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance at next year’s finals in Russia.
“We’ve gotten this far, we’ve turned it around in the right way and we’ve got to make sure we finish the job,” Bradley said.
“All the work that we’ve put in this year is for the next four games, to make sure we can find the right ways in the biggest moments when the lights come on brightest to make sure we get the job done.”
While Arena has reinvigorated a national team that had shown signs of stagnating in the final year of the Klinsmann era, Bradley said the ultimate responsibility lay with the players.
“We all understand that getting to a World Cup is a pass or fail,” said Bradley. “In the end, it doesn’t matter who the coach is. Nothing else matters. It’s our responsibility as players, to step onto the field and make sure we find the right ways to do whatever it takes to qualify.
“The group responded to that in a real good way.”
Arena meanwhile is without experienced defenders DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, who are both injured.
The Americans will also need to tread a fine disciplinary line on Friday with Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore among six players who are a yellow card away from a suspension that would rule them out of next week’s trip to face Honduras in San Pedro Sula.
“Our back line has had some injuries over the past month that will hurt us a little bit, but I think if everyone comes into camp healthy, we have good options in our back line and good depth,” Arena said.
The US meanwhile will look to Borussia Dortmund’s in-form attacking midfielder Christian Pulisic to supply the ammunition for Altidore and Clint Dempsey in attack.
Pulisic, still only 18, has emerged as an increasingly influential figure since making his debut as a substitute in 2016.
“He has surprised me for sure, just in terms of how good a player he is, and ultimately how quickly he’s been able to find the right ways to come into our team and make a real impact even at this level,” Bradley said.