SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Delayed by stormy weather and displaced by a poultry convention, the weary US soccer team finally arrived yesterday for a World Cup qualifying game against Costa Rica.
For the US team, today's game is a chance to test new players and keep a six-game shutout streak alive in qualifiers. The Americans already are set for next year's World Cup in Germany.
For Costa Rica, this is a chance to clinch a spot in the tournament before an impassioned home crowd at Saprissa Stadium, where the Ticos have never lost to the United States.
Bad weather forced the US team's Thursday afternoon charter flight to divert to Panama City, where the Americans found hotels booked full for the Latin American Poultry Congress. The team wound up at a hotel that was an hour-long, late-night trip from the airport.
Costa Rica's clouds lifted enough so the team could arrive by midmorning in San Jose, where soccer-mad TV stations broke into programs to show the American team leaving its plane.
The Americans haven't been scored upon in CONCACAF qualifiers since losing 2-1 in Mexico City March 27, but the record will be in danger before a Costa Rican squad looking to reach the World Cup.
''We want to end that string and win classification at the same time," Costa Rica forward Alvaro Saborio said.
Even a tie would give the Ticos the region's third automatic trip to the World Cup if Guatemala loses to Mexico in Mexico City. With Mexico already qualified, Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago are battling for the final chance from the region, a playoff against Uzbekistan or Bahrain.
Costa Rica coach Alexandre Guimaraes has a lineup featuring Paulo Wanchope, Ronald Gomez, and Winston Parks, who played for Guimaraes at the 2002 World Cup.
The Americans, who secured a World Cup berth with a victory over Mexico Sept. 3, are now testing players: Only four of the 18 players for this game were on the squad that beat Costa Rica, 3-0, in Salt Lake City July 4.
Forward Landon Donovan is missing from the roster after 20 consecutive World Cup qualifying games.
''I am happy that these next two games we're going to give them a chance to get on the field and show us what they can do," US coach Bruce Arena said this week. ''Our next game is vitally important for our opponent. If our guys can respond well on that game that speaks volumes for them."
Key young US players include 20-year-old forward Santino Quaranta of DC United, 22-year-old midfielder Ricardo Clark of the San Jose Earthquakes, and 23-year-old defender Oguchi Onyewu of Standard Liege of Belgium.
Saprissa, which seats 23,000, now has artificial turf. It has been remodeled since the Americans played to a muddy 2-0 loss there in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.