A maligned Costa Rican defense stuck tight for 90 minutes only to crack open in the final seconds of its 1-1 draw with El Salvador in Saturday’s Gold Cup game. Despite holding another seemingly comfortable lead for 30 minutes, the Costa Rica men’s national team now faces potential elimination in the tournament’s group stage.
In the 61st minute, team captain Bryan Ruiz netted what looked to be Costa Rica’s game-clinching goal before El Salvador’s Dustin Corea tied the match in stoppage time. After the draw, a clearly frustrated Ruiz told a television reporter that the defensive error that led to El Salvador’s late goal was unacceptable.
“They attacked us and we gave them the draw they were looking for,” Ruiz said. “We have to do better.”
This marks the third consecutive match with a regional rival where Costa Rica has let a clear lead slip away into a tie. Just as the defense collapsed in second half of games against Mexico and Jamaica, it did so in the most untimely of ways against heavy underdog El Salvador, which is ranked 88th in the world.
Wanchope is still looking for his first win as the head coach of the men’s national team, as his record drops to 0-3-4. The young coach looked content to protect the one-goal lead when he substituted veteran defender Michael Umaña for striker Álvario Saborío, who had been effective and set up Ruiz’s goal in the 61st minute.
When questioned about his tactical moves and substitutions after the game, Wanchope said it’s always easy to criticize a coach’s decision after the match has been decided.
“When you make substitutions and you win, it was a good decision, but when you make substitutions and you lose, you were wrong,” Wanchope said.
The former national team star turned coach said his team played much better in the second half after a scoreless first period. However, a draw leaves Costa Rica with just two points in Group B play, leaving it tied with El Salvador behind first-place Jamaica, who the Ticos tied on Wednesday.
Aside from Ruiz and Saborío, both Celso Borges and Esteban Alvarado continued their stellar play from the opener.
Midway through the first half, a brilliant effort from El Salvador’s captain Arturo Álvarez nearly led to a goal for La Selecta, but Esteban Alvarado used all of his 6-foot-4 frame to deflect the high-arching shot. El Salvador had several breakaway opportunities where a forward was left one-on-one with a Costa Rican defender, but Alvarado stood tall to shut the Central American rivals out for the first 90 minutes.
Without Cristian Gamboa, who was ruled out earlier in the week with a right knee injury, the midfield struggled to choke control of the ball. Borges was the singular bright spot in the middle while Gamboa’s replacement, Francisco Calvo, slid to the back line.
Borges nearly scored La Sele’s second goal when his free kick in the 64th minute ended up just left of goal after ricocheting off a defender’s knee.
Costa Rica’s closest chance to score in the first half came when Saborío lofted a pass into a crowd that took El Salvador goalie Derby Carillo far out of net. The ball dropped to captain Bryan Ruiz, who missed a contested shot that left the Ticos scoreless.
It was almost a black cat sign for the defense when a fan ran onto the field to take a selfie with Alvarado in goal. Just minutes later Alvarado stood stunned as Corea’s goal slipped the rug on Costa Rica’s lead. Now, instead of being tied atop Group B with four points, Costa Rica will look to claw its way into the Gold Cup’s knockout stage with a win Tuesday over Canada, who will have the privilege of hosting the game in Toronto.
“It’s an error that can’t happen but it happened and now we have to look forward to winning this last game,” Ruiz said.