The USMNT all but clinched a spot at the World Cup by hammering Panama 5-1 on Sunday night in Orlando, although a trip to Costa Rica remains on Wednesday with the smallest possibility that the American's passage could be delayed via a six-goal defeat.
That won't happen. Costa Rica, after looking doomed with just one win from its opening seven qualifiers, has won five of its last six to climb to fourth and will like its chances against New Zealand or Solomon Islands in the inter-confederation playoff. Things seem pretty certain and agreeable for both sides, so you wouldn't expect much intensity at the Estadio Nacional — then again, that's the exact mindset everyone carried into Trinidad on the final matchday of 2017.
T&T was already eliminated and a late stadium change meant a sparse crowd of around 1,500 was in attendance, but the Soca Warriors smacked the U.S. with an energized first-half display that put them up 2-0 and the visitors never recovered.
The details are all very different, but the fact remains that the USMNT hasn't yet qualified for Qatar. Four players on this current U.S. roster – Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola, DeAndre Yedlin and Kellyn Acosta — played in that game in Trinidad.
After Sunday night's victory, there was a brief moment in which U.S. players displayed a "QUALIFIED" banner that'd been handed to them. Pulisic and Arriola quickly addressed it because they've lived this before — remember how T&T players reacted to the piggybacks and standing water jokes?
"The guys didn't know at all what it said. It was just handed to them," Pulisic explained. "So once we realized, it's just, there's no need to show that off because we still have a job to do. And we know that.
"We needed the three points bad to put us in a really good spot to qualify, and we're really happy with the performance. It feels great to get a hat trick, of course, my first one with the national team. But more importantly, just to help the team to win and put us in a good spot with one game left. Absolutely we can enjoy tonight, but the job's not done yet. We have one more really important game and we're taking it very seriously. We need to go in and get the job done."
In the video below, you can see Pulisic instructing his teammates to put the banner down.
OH NONot yet, guys. It’d take a defeat of six goals or more in Costa Rica to keep the #USMNT from being “qualified” pic.twitter.com/9NwP58Hbzt
— SI Soccer (@si_soccer) March 28, 2022
"I'll be honest with you. I'm not celebrating anything," Arriola said. "I was in this exact position, or a very similar position, four years ago. And we know how that qualification ended. So for me, I think it's just maintaining focus, understanding that we still have work to do, and anything is possible. So for us, ... the mentality of this group is and has to be to go down there to get a good result against Costa Rica."
Manager Gregg Berhalter used the incident as inspiration for a zinger of an opening remark during his post-match press conference: "We know we're not there yet, despite what that banner said."
USA vs. Costa Rica has a scheduled kickoff of 9:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday. The match will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network and UNIVERSO.