The United States will face Gold Cup foe Costa Rica in a crucial CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier Friday evening. Costa Rica is currently second in World Cup qualifying, three points ahead of the USMNT. Los Ticos will look to lock up 2nd place in the Hex and avenge a recent 2-0 Gold Cup semifinal loss to the USMNT. Costa Rica enters the match with a 3-1-1 record in its last five matches, with their all-time record against the USMNT being dead even at 15-15-5.
Costa Rica Roster:
Goalkeepers (3): Leonel Moreira (Herediano), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense), Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
Defenders (9): Johnny Acosta (Herediano), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United FC), Cristian Gamboa (Celtic FC), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Kenner Gutierrez (Alajuelense), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Jose Salvatierra (Alajuelense), Michael Umana (Pars Jonoubi), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Midfielders (8): Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), Cristian Bolanos (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruña), David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Clube de Portugal), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne-Sport), Johan Venegas (Minnesota United FC), Rodney Wallace (New York City FC)
Forwards (4): Daniel Colindres (Saprissa), Jose Ortiz (Herediano), David Ramirez (Saprissa), Marco Urena (San Jose Earthquakes)
Costa Rica has many talented players, but will be hurt by the absence of dynamic winger Joel Campbell. Campbell is recovering from recent knee surgery after being injured during the Gold Cup group stage. Head coach Oscar Ramirez is known for using a wide variety of formations, but I’d expect him to deploy either a 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 for this match. Ramirez isn’t afraid to use players out of position.
Real Madrid netminder Keylor Navas will feature in goal. Navas is CONCACAF’s best goalkeeper and has incredible reflexes. The backline will be led by Serie A centerback Giancarlo Gonzalez. Gonzalez is very composed and sticks to his man like glue. However, his passing leaves much to be desired. Minnesota United stalwart Francisco Calvo will likely partner with Gonzalez at centerback. Calvo excels at tackling and intercepts many passes each game, but struggles in the air.
Right back is a toss up between Cristian Gamboa and Jose Salvatierra. Gamboa has yet to play this season for Celtic as has been suffering from a “minor wound.” He may start if he’s healthy, but it seems more likely that Salvatierra will get the nod. Salvatierra is arguably Costa Rica’s weakest link as he struggles with his positioning and 1v1 defending. Bryan Oviedo should start at left back. Oviedo is a strong tackler and is far better on the ball than most defenders. He likes to overlap and get crosses into the box. Oviedo occasionally struggles with picking his moments when to attack, leaving his side of the field exposed.
Defensive midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda will be tasked with shielding the backline. Tejeda plays in the Swiss Super League for FC Lausanne-Sport. He is a hard working and tough tackling midfielder. David Guzman of the Portland Timbers has a great chance to be used in central midfield. Guzman has a similar playing style to Tejeda, but is more prone to being carded. Additionally, Guzman is a better passer than Tejeda.
Look for Deportivo La Coruña man Celso Borges to start in central midfield. Borges covers a lot of ground and creates many chances in the final third with his precise passing. While Borges is an excellent passer, he is quite slow and is an average dribbler. Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica’s best playmaker, will start on either the left or right wing. He is deadly on set pieces and has an impressive passing range. One of Ruiz’s few weaknesses is that he provides little defensive help. Versatile MLS veteran Rodney Wallace should start at left midfield. Wallace is a pacy winger who likes to start on the touchline and cut inside. He is also capable of playing left back and offers excellent defensive support when playing in midfield.
Expect San Jose Earthquakes striker Marco Urena to start up top. Urena has struggled for San Jose, with just 4 goals and 2 assists in 17 appearances, but he remains one of Costa Rica’s best natural strikers. Urena is very quick and has decent dribbling ability, but his finishing has been quite poor this season.
Costa Rica is a good side and could make things very difficult for the United States. Despite Los Ticos quality, I expect the USMNT to secure a narrow 2-1 victory.