The last time Costa Rica lined up against the United States, a nightmare unfolded on Chicago’s Soldier Field where the U.S. beat La Sele 4-0 in the Copa América group stages.
Now, Costa Rica has a chance to avenge the June beatdown by getting a home win that could seriously jeopardize U.S. chances of qualifying for the World Cup. After losing to Mexico at home Friday, the U.S. comes to San José’s National Stadium looking for a win in a city where it’s 0-8-1 all-time.
The Ticos will look to keep it that way and remain first in CONCACAF’s six-team Hexagonal group.
Following a key road win at Trinidad & Tobago to start the last round of World Cup qualifying, Costa Rica can make another crucial step towards Russia in 2018 with a win against the United States Tuesday night.
Unlike the June meeting, Costa Rica will be well-equipped in goal with star keeper Keylor Navas. Though Navas wasn’t called to duty much in Friday’s 2-0 win, he should see more shots on goal from a U.S. team that wants to keep an aggressive pace on offense.
“It’s always great to play the United States, but no matter who the opponent is, our goal is to classify for the World Cup,” Navas said at a press conference Monday. “We have to enjoy it, but still take it seriously, because they have a great team.”
Coach Óscar Ramírez will again be down three key center backs on his five-man backline. Normal starters Giancarlo González and Óscar Duarte were left off the call-up list and now Francisco Calvo, a starter Friday, will remain out after leaving the Trinidad & Tobago game with a leg injury.
It will be interesting to see if the defense can continue to hold up at home, where it’s allowed just one goal (a penalty kick to Panama) in its three World Cup qualifying games so far.
In their June meeting, the U.S. feasted on the center of Costa Rica’s defense, scoring each of its last three goals in virtually the same spot at the top center of the box. La Sele’s backline was routinely out of position and late to get back against a U.S. team that made it a point to slice right at the heart of a soft middle.
Ramírez said he expects the U.S. to come out in that same attacking mode Tuesday night.
“They’re very aggressive and they’re always competitive,” Ramírez said on Monday at the National Stadium. “They’re going to compete until the end and they’re not going to give you anything until the final whistle.”
Much of the talk since Friday has centered on the status of captain Bryan Ruíz. The 31-year-old midfield star left the Trinidad & Tobago game with what appeared to be a lower leg injury to his right leg. Ruíz has said since then that he expects to be a full go against the U.S., but it’s worth keeping an eye on how long he can play Tuesday night.
Even if he needs to come out, the midfield should be in good hands with a pair of emerging veterans. Herediano’s Randall Azofeifa nearly scored early Friday on a set piece that went just a tad too far to the right of the post. He’s played extremely well for Costa Rica under Ramírez and has two goals in the past four games.
Fellow midfielder, 32-year-old Christian Bolaños, has been a revelation for La Sele despite his age. He, too, will look to continue his goal-scoring roll, as he’s netted three goals in the past two World Cup qualifiers.
That midfield will be called upon to help dictate the game’s rhythm and withhold the easy opportunities and breakaways that led the United States to a blowout win the last time around.
After that loss, Ramírez apologized to the fanbase for the lopsided score. On Monday he said the team has made the necessary corrections, rocketing up to 18th in the world in FIFA’s official rankings.
“We’re going to be ready for whatever they show,” Ramírez said Monday. “We’re clear in what we’ve practiced and it doesn’t matter if their strategy is balanced or attacking because we’re going to be prepared.”
Costa Rica kicks off against the United States at 8 p.m. local time at the National Stadium.