All Costa Rica needed against Haiti was a tie to advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying play. The Ticos did one better by notching a 1-0 win and the points required to clinch a spot in the six-team Hexagonal.
Still, there seems very little to celebrate after another ugly performance Friday night.
Costa Rica nearly got on the board early when midfielder Randall Azofeifa fed a good ball to captain Bryan Ruíz in the second minute. Ruíz’s attempt in front of the goal was rejected by the Haitian keeper, and Haiti stormed back with pressure of its own.
Over the next five minutes, the Haitians broke down the Costa Rican defense a few times and had two clear opportunities to score. The first came on a long volley from midfield where Patrick Pemberton inexplicably came far out of goal, as he’s inclined to do, and put himself past the ball.
Action continued at an extremely slow pace until Azofeifa’s golazo from distance in the 72nd minute gave Costa Rica its 1-0 lead.
By any definition, this is another mediocre performance for Costa Rica. Haiti, which hasn’t scored a goal in this round of qualifying, wasn’t even playing with a fully healthy team.
Besides the narrow win, it’s the way the Ticos looked that is so concerning. Their offense was again disconnected and lifeless. Costa Rica is far too talented across the board to not dominate a team like Haiti, but it looks at times like a team more worried about messing up than forcing the issue on offense.
Going forward, where the level of teams will be higher, Costa Rica will have to answer glaring questions about its lineup.
Johnny Acosta is not a quality starter and barely qualifies as a good backup option. Yet, Ramírez has played him in every single one of La Sele’s five World Cup qualifiers.
It’s time for this team to go back to Giancarlo González, who was left on the bench Friday in favor of Acosta.
On the other side of the field, Marco Ureña continues to offer nothing. In the 37th minute, Ureña was given a good chance to beat a defender and score, but he was easily stripped of control and blew the promising shot.
To have such a vanilla striker like Ureña that defenders don’t need to respect allows backlines to focus on jamming passing lanes rather than keeping all eyes on what should be a roaming striker.
It’s somewhat jarring that Ramírez didn’t insert Johan Venegas into that role after his spirited performance in Costa Rica’s previous game against Colombia. Sure it’s not his natural position, but he provides much more activity at the position than Ureña ever could.
Venegas ultimately came on for Ureña in the 55th minute.
Right now, La Sele’s best offensive threats come off of steals on defense and quick counters from the wings. Still, those opportunities rarely manifest into consistent attacks over the course of a full game.
At best, Ramírez’s selection is totally boring. At worst, and probably more honestly, it’s made up of a fragile offense that almost never goes through its best playmakers, instead over-relying on a defense prone to numerous breakdowns every match.
Something needs to give quick because fringe contenders in CONCACAF like Trinidad & Tobago or Honduras could top La Sele for one of the three World Cup spots up for grabs if Ramirez’s team keeps up its dull pace.
If the current standings hold elsewhere with Trinidad & Tobago winning Group C ahead of second-place United States, then Costa Rica could have to go back to the U.S. to play the USMNT in November, five months after the team was badly embarrassed in a 4-0 rout in the Copa América.
Though goalie Keylor Navas would probably be back for that game, the Real Madrid star can’t solve the rest of the issues on a team that looks increasingly mediocre with each game under Ramírez.
Costa Rica will return home to play in the National Stadium against Panama on Tuesday. In the game worth little more than a friendly, Ramírez has a chance to experiment more with his lineup.