ARLINGTON, Texas — United States manager Bruce Arena said his side “should be a little bit fresher” than any of the other Gold Cup semifinalists, which should give the Americans an advantage in Wednesday’s semifinal against Costa Rica.
Arena maximized his use of a tournament rule that allows teams to make six roster changes after the group stage. The U.S. manager added players with a combined total of over 500 international appearances, and five of the six players started in the U.S.’s 2-0 quarterfinal victory over El Salvador.
By contrast, Costa Rica counterpart Oscar Ramirez added four players with a combined total of 18 caps. The four changes were injury-induced as Joel Campbell, Cristian Gamboa, Bryan Oviedo, and Johan Venegas were forced out of the tournament.
But Arena isn’t expecting there to be much, if any, drop-off in Costa Rica’s performance. The Ticos have the best defensive record in the tournament so far, with just one goal conceded.
“I think, to their credit, they have a set way they play, regardless of the players that aren’t available,” he said at his prematch news conference.
“[It’s] well-known, their back three, back five, however you want to describe it. The attack with this team is highlighted with [Bryan] Ruiz, obviously a very good player. [Marco] Urena has done well as a striker. The back line is strong with [Giancarlo] Gonzalez, [Johnny] Acosta and [Kendall] Waston; experienced players in the midfield. So overall they have a really good team.”
There is a sense that the U.S. hasn’t played that well in this Gold Cup, given its struggles in the group stage, and at times against El Salvador. But Arena noted that his side’s eight goals are tops in the tournament so “we’re not that bad in the attack.”
Costa Rica figures to be the toughest test yet, but Arena said his team’s point of emphasis on offense will be the same as always.
“Move the ball well, find your advantages on the field and try to capitalize. No different than any [other] game,” he said.
He added: “If there’s any issue in our team, it’s that we haven’t played together, and that’s kind of by design. We can’t be concerned about that. But at this stage of the tournament, we can go with a lineup that’s a little bit more familiar to our team, and to people outside the team.”
When asked if there had been any players that had made a push for a bigger role in the national team, Arena said there had been some, though he didn’t go into detail.
“We’ve had the opportunity to start 27 players in the tournament to date,” he said. “There have been a number of players that have shown.
“It helps us formulate our roster for future competitions, most notably the World Cup qualifiers in September and October, and hopefully if we’re in a position to be in a World Cup next year, it’s more information in helping us try to piece together our roster.”
The U.S. and Costa Rica are set to meet again in a World Cup qualifier in Harrison, N.J. on Sep. 1, but Arena said he doesn’t expect Wednesday’s match to impact what happens in September.
“I imagine the teams that we see in September are going to look different than the teams we see tomorrow,” he said.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.