It seems almost absurd that the U.S. men's soccer team is set to meet Costa Rica in a game of consequence for the fourth time in the last 15 months.
They have met in the Copa América Centenario. They have met in World Cup qualifying. They have met in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. You can even add a friendly match played in October 2015 to the list — in part because it also took place at Red Bull Arena, site of the World Cup qualifier at 6:55 p.m. Friday (ESPN and UniMas).
The stakes have only grown each time. So has the pressure of World Cup qualifying. With a win Friday, the Americans will tie the Ticos for second place in the standings.
So when Union captain and U.S. stalwart Alejandro Bedoya called the contest "probably the biggest game so far," it wasn't just hype.
"We control our own destiny," said Bedoya, who played in the Copa América Centenario matchup last summer. "That's one of the games we must win. We're coming in with good spirits, and I think it bodes well for us. A lot of the guys are playing well right now."
Indeed they are — and some of the Americans' most important players are at the top of the list.
Christian Pulisic has enjoyed a stellar start to Germany's Bundesliga season with Borussia Dortmund, and Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have helped Toronto FC compile Major League Soccer's best record.
Altidore is on a particularly hot streak. He has 12 goals in 25 games this year for Toronto, including two tallies in the last week, and struck for the national team in the Gold Cup semifinals and final.
"He's been banging in goals left and right," Bedoya said. "Sometimes he doesn't get the credit he deserves — he's a great hold-up player and a great passer as well. If he's in form like this, it's only going to help the national team."
Many players on both teams have crossed paths in MLS. Eight players from the Ticos squad call the league home or used to. Four of them are club teammates with players on the U.S. squad.
"It helps in that way; I think it also helps them," U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan said while in Philadelphia for Atlanta United's recent game against the Union. "It's good to be able to see these guys play week in and week out, and see the video of their club games, but it makes their team a better team because they're playing in a competitive league, and they're helping their MLS teams."
Guzan was in the net for the United States during the 4-0 World Cup qualifying blowout loss in Costa Rica last November. He was also on the right side of a 4-0 score at the Copa América Centenario last summer.
"We take a little bit from each game, and we understand their team a little bit more every time we play them," he said. "But when you play qualifiers, [they] have a different meaning than playing in a Gold Cup or playing in a friendly, or playing in any other type of game."
This matchup comes with the added complication of being played in a part of the country that has the nation's largest Costa Rican expatriate population.
Of course, New York has large immigrant groups from everywhere, which is why there has never been a World Cup qualifying game in the region until now. U.S. Soccer has feared that the U.S. fans would be drowned out in their own building, and for good reason.
But maybe not this time, Most of the 25,189 seats at Red Bull Arena were sold to the American Outlaws fan club, season-ticket holders of New York's pro teams, and youth clubs across the region.
Bedoya expects a pro-American crowd, though he conceded he wouldn't mind if some Costa Rican fans get stuck in rush-hour traffic ahead of the kickoff.
"Red Bull Arena is a great little stadium — it reminds me of the European stadiums," he said. "I definitely think our crowd will outnumber them, and they'll help us get through the game."
6:55 p.m. Friday at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
United States record: 2-2-2, 14 points; 3rd place
Costa Rica record: 3-1-2, 11 points; 2nd place
All-time series: United States 15 wins, Costa Rica 15 wins, 6 ties
In the United States: United States 15 wins, Costa Rica 5 wins, 4 ties
World Cup qualifiers in the U.S.: United States 6 wins, Costa Rica 1 win, 2 ties
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas: There are more famous players in CONCACAF, but none plays for a more famous club. Navas backstops Spanish superpower Real Madrid, and has helped the team win back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles.
Defender Kendall Waston: The 6-foot-5 centerback is a beast for his national team and his club, MLS' Vancouver Whitecaps. His duels against U.S. striker Jozy Altidore will be one of the marquee matchups in this game.