USMNT vs. Costa Rica: A Look Ahead

Landon Donovan

By IVES GALARCEP

EAST HARTFORD, Conn.– As a general rule, national team soccer coaches tend to speak in confident tones, and even when the odds seem stacked against them, a defiant tone and insistence their their team can win is usually the stance teams coaching underdogs will take.

Costa Rica head coach Jorge Luis Pinto is following that playbook, but when you hear him speak and you look into his stoic face, you see a coach who really believes his team will win. When you hear him state confidently that he has the plan to shut down the U.S. Men’s National Team when the CONCACAF powers square off in Gold Cup action on Tuesday night, you believe him. Well, you believe that he believes that.

Pinto has a little bit more to stand on in believing his Ticos can beat the United States. Costa Rica hasn’t given up a goal since the one that cost them the 1-0 decision to the U.S. in the snow in Colorado last March. A span of seven shutouts later, the Ticos, at least defensively, like their chances of neutralizing a U.S. attack that has scored 16 goals in their past three matches.

Of course, that will be easier said than done against a U.S. attack that will roll into Rentschler Field riding a wave of confidence courtesy of a seven-match winning streak, and recent offensive surge. The U.S. has blossomed on the strength of a midfield that has been able to dominate lesser opposition, sharpening their passing skills and creating chances in droves.

Chances will be tougher to come by tonight against a Costa Rican defense that is not only well organized and very athletic, but also expected to trot out extra defensive numbers to deal with the U.S. attack.

What should we expect to see tonight? Here is a closer look at the match-up and what to look for:

Costa Rica has watched the videos of U.S. matches, and while they have seen the Americans generate goals, they have also seen weaknesses. They have seen a U.S. defense that has looked vulnerable on the counter, and centerbacks who look beatable in space. When I asked Costa Rican midfielder Michael Barrantes about the U.S. defense, and whether he sees an area the Ticos can exploit, he drew a wry smile and tried his best to cliche his way out of showing his hand.

“We are confident that we can find chances,” Barrantes said. “We will need to improve our level from our first two games, but we can do that.”

It is easy to forget that, amid all the snow in Colorado in March, Costa Rica had a very clear game plan. They trotted out a five-man midfield to try and stifle the U.S. attack, while deploying speed on the flanks to burn the Americans on the counter. The only problem was the snow made being effective on the counter difficult, and long passes became next to impossible. Costa Rica had little choice but to stick to long aerial balls to navigate the snow, which played right into the strength of the U.S. defense, which featured almost 13 feet of centerback in Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson.

Snow won’t be an issue tonight, and Costa Rica will look to show off the attacking qualities they were unable to in the snow in March. Alvaro Saborio, Jairo Arrieta, Barrantes, Celso Borges and Rodney Wallace should lead the attack, with Saborio providing the target that Costa Rica’s speedsters run off of.

“They are well known for how they play going towards Saborio,” Klinsmann said. “Saborio is their key up front, then you have players like Barrantes and Arrieta, they’re right there, they’re sniffing around, they want to finish things off. We are very well aware.”

Klinsmann will be banking on his defense stepping up against the toughest opponent they have faced since coming together before the Gold Cup. Oguchi Onyewu and Clarence Goodson have had their shaky moments in the past three matches, but the U.S. defense has only allowed two goals in those three matches.

That rate is a good one, but the Americans haven’t faced an attack as strong as Costa Rica’s this month.

As much as Costa Rica want to attack tonight, their defense will be the key to whether the Ticos can really earn a result. Pinto has made it clear the team’s focus will be trying to pressure the U.S. midfield and not give passers like Beckerman, Holden and Diskerud time and space to operate.

“They pass very well so it is important that you pressure them and don’t give them time,” said Pinto.

Costa Rica’s recent shutout streak is impressive, but the Ticos have not faced a team playing as well offensively as the Americans are playing now.

“Costa Rica stays very compact, their back four is very organized, but I believe that we have a lot of talent going forward,” Klinsmann said. “Especially when we connect our passes and the movement off the ball, it’s something very crucial for us.

“When we are able to connect those passes and really play together as a team, I think we are able to create opportunities, and the more opportunities that we get, we tend to finish them.”

If Costa does look to flood the middle of the field with quick athletes intent on pressing the likes of Beckerman and Holden into giving up the ball, the pressure will likely fall to the U.S. wingers to drive the attack and be sharper with their service. If Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona are deployed on the wings, they will likely be given even more responsibility as the Ticos looks to push the U.S. attack wide.

If the Americans can be effective with their service from the wings, withstand the pressure expected to come from the Costa Rican central midfield, stay organized defensive on the counter-attack, and finish the chances when they come, a U.S. victory will be pretty easy. Accomplishing all of that will be a tall order, but one the Americans are capable of completing.

And if Costa Rica succeeds in disrupting the U.S. attack with central pressure, and the U.S. wingers struggle, and the U.S. centerbacks get exposed on the counterattack? A Costa Rica victory can definitely happen.

One thing is clear. Tonight’s match will be a good chess match, and far from the mismatches we have seen the U.S. plow through in recent weeks. It will be a great showcase for the two most in-form teams in CONCACAF, and could be the first of three meetings between the nations over the next seven weeks (the teams could meet again in the Gold Cup semifinals).

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45 Responses to USMNT vs. Costa Rica: A Look Ahead

  1. Dan the man488 says:

    I think this will be a great game, a little uneasy about how our D might fare, not sure gooch can deal with speed like he once could. I am excited to see how our recent successes on offense will translate into tonight game against a more challenging opponent. Great stuff Ives.

    • Sandtrout says:

      Should be at least 4 goals in this game. We’ll give up 2, but we’re probably good for 2 as well.

  2. Fan Futbol says:

    “not give passers like Beckerman…time and space to operate.” Good stuff. And yes, I’m aware Beckerman passed two balls right to Wondo for goals in the last two matches. But Beckerman’s a #6, not passing force.

    • OPMG says:

      Position on the field doesn’t determine how effective you are at p@ssing. Maybe you mean Beckerman won’t be slicing the defense open from his deeper position, but he should be initiating the attack out of the back the entire game.

      • Fan Futbol says:

        The implication in the quote is that passing is an important attribute of Beckerman’s. It isn’t. He’s a destroyer without real pa$$ing proficiency (that’s what I meant here, and below, by #6). I would not describe Beckerman as initiating attacks. He sometimes passes the ball sideways or backwards to people who do.

        The way to neutralize Beckerman is for CR to play around/past him so he can’t break up play, not to deny him pa$$ing opportunities. That’s why the article quote was amusing.

      • Fan Futbol says:

        The implication in the quote is that pa$$ing is an important attribute of Beckerman’s. It isn’t. He’s a destroyer without real pa$$ing proficiency That’s what I meant by “a #6,” and you’re right, I wasn’t clear about that. Respectfully, I would not describe Beckerman as initiating attacks. He sometimes pa$$es the ball sideways or backwards to people who do.

        The way to neutralize Beckerman is for CR to play around/past him so he can’t break up play, not to deny him pa$$ing opportunities. That’s why the article quote was amusing.

        Fixed to get through moderation and edited for clarity.

    • biff says:

      well, Fan Futbol, if Beckerman delivered a beautiful perfectly executed axists in each of the last two games, that sounds to me like a textbook definition of a “paxing force.” When is the last time a US midfielder had great back-to-back axists two games in a row? Come on, folks. What does Beckerman, the Rodney Dangerfield of US soccer, have to do to get just a teensie weensie bit of respect? Is Beckerman going to have to shave his head to finally get the respect he deserves?

      • Fan Futbol says:

        Two plays do not make someone Andrea Pirlo.

        Beckerman’s a destroyer, and the best one in MLS. But he’s not getting onto the WC team because he’s offering Klinsi a Busquets-like ball-winner and circulator. Saying that is not disrepecting Beckerman in the least

        • biff says:

          I take your point, and pretty much agree. But, man, those were excellent passes from Beckerman and has me wondering whether some sort of magic is happening with this roster. The chemistry is great and they all seem to be getting along and Beckerman with two pin-point axists into the box. Wow.

        • biff says:

          I take your point, and pretty much agree. But, man, those were excellent paxxes from Beckerman and has me wondering whether some sort of magic happening with this roster. The chemistry is great and they all seem to be getting along and Beckerman with two pin-point axists into the box. Wow.

      • Jake says:

        Had they been done under pressure, I’d agree. Given the time and space, I could serve great balls in. Jury is out on Beckerman’s passing (in an attacking sense). He’s definitely fine at moving the ball around and making the smart conservative pass.

  3. Dennis says:

    I agree with the CostaRican coach, if they can apply pressure to the US midfield and that that pressure disrupts the service provided to the forwards, what has worked so well for the US in the last 3 games will not work.

    The question is will/can the US change its attack to overcome the pressure, either by good play up the wings, or by balls over the top and into space for Donavon and others to open up the field and relieve the pressure?

    Also, everyone acknowledges that the US defense has looked shaky at times against less than stellar opposition, can they step it up against a better attack?

  4. Fan Futbol says:

    “not give pa$sers like Beckerman…time and space to operate.” Good stuff. And yes, I’m aware Beckerman pa$sed two balls right to Wondo for goals in the last two matches. But Beckerman’s a #6, not a pa$sing force.

    Fixed to get through moderation.

    • Don Pelayo says:

      Beckerman is so money.

    • Eurosnob says:

      The post did not say that Beckerman is not #6. It simply named three central midfielders, Beckerman, Holden and Diskerud (two off which you deleted from the quote) and that that Costa Rica intends to them under pressure, denying time and space. I am not sure why you take an issue with calling Beckerman a “passer.” It’s not like they called him engache or trequartista.

      • Fan Futbol says:

        The implication is that passing is an important attribute of Beckerman’s. It isn’t. He’s a #6. The way to neutralize Beckerman is for CR to play around/past him so he can’t break up play, not to deny him passing opportunities. That’s why it’s amusing.

        I deleted Holden and Mix from the quote because passing *is* an important attribute of theirs. The way for CR to neutralize Holden and Mix is to deny them passing opportunities.

        • bryan says:

          wait, now his p@ssing is irrelevant? i thought there was just a whole SBI analysis on how his distribution, even if not always forward, is the reason the US has had success…

  5. T. Faust says:

    “They pass very well so it is important that you pressure them and don’t give them time,”

    Did you ever think you would hear this ABOUT a US team and not FROM a US team?

    • ATX_Colin says:

      I was thinking the same thing, my how things have changed over the course of a few months.

  6. Turd Bradley says:

    Easily be the best game of the gold cup so far. Should be dead on even almost. Hopefully, they serve booze and the crowd isn’t asleep like SLC.

    I wish Obama would sell the entire state of Utah to North Korea.

    • Wispy says:

      Can’t imagine why they call you Turd.

    • Kevin_Amold says:

      Maybe Utahns could teach North Korea a thing or two about building up a prosperous society out of a barren wasteland.

    • Kev says:

      Hahaha cracked me up. I wouldnt get your hopes up. I remember going to East Hartford back in ’06 before the World Cup. Wasn’t impressed with the fans. Although, they did love the horns! I had a headache for a couple of days after that.

      This should be a tight game. I am very nervous but think we can get the job done.
      If I were to bet, I think a 1-1 is likely, we get a late (maybe controversial) game tying goal.
      I would say 0-0 but I cant see our D keeping a clean sheet.

      I will be absolutely pumped if our ball movement is as good as it has been against the minnows. This is probably going too far but in my mind, this game is a big step to see whether JK is truly on his way to elevating this team. Playing a determined foe on home soil in this tournament with a B team.

  7. bizzy says:

    ————————–GOMEZ—————————–

    ———————–DONOVAN—————————-
    —-CASTILLO—————————–CORONA———

    ————-DISKERUD———-HOLDEN——————-

    –BEASLEY——-GOODSON—-ONYEWU—-PARKHURST

    ————————-RIMANDO—————————-

    US 3 vs Costa Rica 1 – you heard it here first!!!

    *Wondo will be more effective as a poucher after the game is already set in motion. His lack of speed, good ball awareness and great positional vision will be more of an advantage against a tired Costa Rican defense.
    *Beckerman will be better coming on in the second half to settle the game, hold on to the ball, keep possession as much as possible and be effective on the counters after we are ahead with a decent scoreline.
    *Castillo cannot be seen at LB anymore. He was beat repetitively against Cuba….but was effective offensively. With Beasley at LB they can alternative with each other with his primary duty on offense. Plus he’s been playing in Mexico so he can handle the speed of the game
    *Mix Diskerud, the name that not a lot of people talk about but anytime he steps on the field we seem to find our rhythm, unlock defenses, control the midfield and everyone that’s was playing average in the first half start to excel around him.
    Whats even more thrilling is that the team that played the US A-Team (most of them) is going up against this hungry minnow stumping B-Team with players wanting to show they belong……hahahaha, however Klinsman sets this team up in midfield its going to be a good game….for us.

  8. blokhin says:

    prediction: U.S. really struggles to set the pace and connect on more than two passes going forward at a time for the first half-not so easy vs CR as opposed to Guatemala/Belize/Cuba triumverate of awfulness. Costa Rica has a couple of dangerous moments and scores around the 25th minute. By the 61st minute, Corona and Beckerman get pulled and U.S. ties it up after throwing massive numbers forward in the 75th minute. 1-1 tie…

  9. Fan Futbol says:

    I’m not complaining about the moderation, because I understand why Ives needs to do it. But because I’m a bit of a doofus I’ve ended up double-posting a few times. My apologies. Go USMNT!

  10. Woodchips says:

    Speaking of US coaches having man crushes on players can you name some of them….

    JK and Beckerman

    Bob Bradley and Bornstein

    Bruce Arena and Jeff Agoos

    What about Steve Sampson who was his man crush and Bora M.?

    • Luke says:

      Good one! Had to really think about and use Google to recall the old rosters, but when I watched 94 and 98 World Cup there were a few choices that I had to scratch my head on.

      Bora – Mike Sorber started all the games over Reyna, Cobi Jones and not even Joe Max-Moore, John Harkes or Ernie Stewart started all of the games at MF. Bora is quoted as saying, “When you analyze the World Cup, Sorber was probably our MVP. It is difficult for me to explain what I feel about him. He is disciplined and intelligent.” Despite being only 23 in 1994, he was never picked for another World Cup after 1994. All the others he was picked over became USMNT legends.

      Steve Sampson – David Regis who started at LB. Sampson supposedly promised Regis a starting position on the team if he became a U.S. citizen. He started and played every minute of all three games in the 1998 World Cup.

  11. bryan says:

    i seriously hope we shut them up. i’m so sick of hearing their complaining and whining. they literally had the worst field in CONCACAF for a very long time. these fools are over confident right now and if i was the US defense, i’d be motivated to have huge game tonight.

    going to be a very intense game.

  12. Woodchips says:

    This will be a tight game and a very physical one nonetheless. Gooch scares me he was getting beat by players that are nothing compared to these Costa Rican forwards. Beckerman is a decent player but not a great one on the international level and because of lack of choices and his experience he gets the start. As far as Mids are concerned I also like the combo between Beasley and Castillo on the left side and up top I say start Wondo give him as many opportunities as possible to get his foot and head on the ball inside the box after all he deserves it. Corona has impressed me even though I would like to see what else Bedoya can do on the flanks. I say give Holden the start but bring in Mix in the 2nd half. Gomez could be a good sub to bring on in the 75th or so depending on whats going on in the game….So with that being said…

    ——————–Rimando————————–

    Parkhurst———-Orozco—-Goodson—–Beasley

    ——————–Beckerman———————–

    Corona————–Holden——————Castillo

    ——————–Donovan——————–

    ———————-Wondo———————–

  13. Raymon says:

    Lando > Costa Rica. Wondow has broken through, and sure, Castillo and Corona can make an impact, but it’s games like this where Lando likes to shine for the Nats. Tomorrow’s headlines will read “US Win led by Donovan Goal and A88ist”. 2-1 to the good guys.

    • Fan Futbol says:

      “Wondow.” Such a simple but awesome adjustment to his nickname. Well played, sir.

  14. The Other Jeff says:

    JK has said one thing consistently since taking over USMNT: to get to the next level, we have to start imposing our style of play on the opponent, not trot out different tactics for different opponents. Here is a test of whether he means it. If every time an opponent tries to shut down our movement through the middle, we just cave and go to the wing, I guess he was just joking and we can go back to the “old” USA approach: try to win with speed and athleticism. If on the other hand he really means it, in games where an opponent tries to bottle up our midfield, we should be moving through the midfield anyway and destroy their game plan, not win in spite of it.

    When US plays an Italy or Spain or Brazil, for sure we try to do the same thing expected here of Costa Rica: pack the middle, stay compact, force them wide, defend the crosses, and win on the counter. I can’t recall any of that class of side responding by saying, “Oh, YOU wanted the middle? So very sorry, didn’t know that – we’ll abandon moving through the middle and play the game YOUR way.” No, they just go out and beat our central pressure anyway. If we expect to join that elite level, we have to start approaching games the same way.

  15. mbarrie says:

    Wondo for this USMNT is like Chicharito for Man United…….pouchers with no speed or dribbling ability but great vision, ball awareness and knack for being at the right spot at the right time. You don’t play these players from the start when the opposing team is fresh and full of speed/energy but when they are tired/spent in the second half, when speed is not a factor and reaction to the ball is the advantage. If he starts we just reduced our goal count……

    • Cairo says:

      Umm, didn’t Wondow recently score THREE in the FIRST HALF of a Gold Cup game? Belize had plenty of weaknesses, but they had decent speed. It amazes me the reasons that folks come up with to downplay what Wondo has done. Six goals in three games, only one of which he actually started. If you take into consideration the # of minutes played, he’s actually got six goals in less than two games. If he gets 45 minutes tonight, he will get at least one goal. You don’t score 60 goals in three seasons for nothing…

  16. Dennis says:

    Things that could happen: Gooch or Goodson score off a corner kick. Holden or Diskerud connect on one of their long range shots. Wondo scores again. Beasley scores.

  17. Cairo says:

    I see a 3-2 US Victory tonight. Our offense continues to produce (There is no one on the Costa Rica defense who will keep Wondo from getting a few chances on goal) and our weak central defense will be exposed some. I hope Orozco-Goodson play, because it’s just scary watching Gooch move around back there. He actually looks like he could trip on his own feet much of the time. Orozco has looked fairly good the last few times he’s been on the Nats, and he’s worth another look.

  18. beachbum says:

    great write up Ives

    Beckerman, Stu, Mix and the backline will be tested to beat the pressure. hope they’re not afraid to play some long balls, some good ones though. that wouldn’t be so bad if we can find LD with a few of those in space to scare CR back a little