Closing out the international break with a little reprieve from competitive action. Vamos.
Opponent: Costa Rica
Time, Location: Wednesday, June 9, 6 p.m. CDT • Sandy, Utah
Watch party: TailGate Music Row with AO Nashville
Weather: 86ºF, 0% chance of rain, 13% humidity, 16 MPH Southerly wind
Watch: ESPN2 (national) • Unimás/TUDN (nacional)
The FIFA rankings: USA 20, Costa Rica 50
I’m on the record – and pretty consistent – that I think Costa Rica is horribly managed, and if they’re to have a prayer of making the World Cup, this international window could/should be the last of head coach Ronáld González. The tactical approach and quality of play have diminished under him, and despite a couple draws in Concacaf Nations League (albeit both lost on penalties), it’s also really starting to look like the roster has given up on him. So keep that in mind, particularly if a US team that spent its tank Sunday night (and probably won’t play full-strength) ends up winning this one.
From our perspective, and honestly from the perspective of this Costa Rica team writ large, Randall Leal is the headliner. The talented Nashville SC winger is playing wide left for the Ticos in this tournament, though in recent games (including with the U-23s) he’s also played as a second striker or a few varieties of holding midfielder(!)(?).
Other names that might be familiar to MLS fans are Chicago Fire’s Francisco Calvo (a centerback), FC Cincinnati midfielder Allan Cruz, LA Galaxy defender Giancarlo Gonzalez, and Houston Dynamo winger Ariel Lassiter. Notable names not called up include FCC’s Ronald Matarrita (left back) and winger Luis Diaz (Columbus Crew), who are significantly better than the guys who were called up. But alas.
As is typical of the Sele, this is a domestic-heavy team, and given the on-field struggles of Leal’s former club Saprissa, it probably comes as no surprise that the other two traditional powers, Alajuelense and Herediano, provide most of that talent.
Notably, the goalkeeping situation is a little unsettled with top option Keylor Navas unavailable. In the absence of the PSG netminder, 31-year old Leonel Moreira of Alajuelense has stepped in and been… fine. He hasn’t had a ton to do in either game, though obviously did allow two goals against Honduras – and lost penalty shootouts twice last week.
That last paragraph sort of tells you the story of this Costa Rica team: they’re decent-to-good defensively, but very lacking when it comes to attacking patterns or creation. You may think “give the ball to Leal and let him cook” or “focus on quick counter-attacks, then.” You may have an equal shot to Ronald Gonzalez of being the Costa Rica coach come World cup qualifiers in September.
After the buzz of Sunday evening’s game, this one is free money. I do expect, since this is designed to be the trial run for the third game of a September qualifying window, that some of the big names will get on the pitch. I also think it’s not worth giving guys who got more than 90 minutes Sunday night tooooo much fatigue.
We should see the Christian Pulisics and Gio Reynas of the world for cameos, but hopefully not too much more than that.
Obviously, given that a Nashville SC player was called up, it might be nice to see him! A healthy appearance for Walker and I’m satisfied.
Neither team comes out with a lot of juice, and the Americans in particular are more “this is a dress rehearsal” mode after Sunday night’s final. Costa Rica might be listless in the “this is just how we are because we don’t like our coach” vein.
The game is a 1-1 draw.