It’s about as close to must-have that a non-must-have is.
The US coach, Jurgen Klinsmann believes it is, in fact, a must-have.
And the US goes forward with, at best, a second choice squad this week.
The United States opens the home leg of its CONCACAF final round World Cup qualifying round this Friday at Dick Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado still licking its wounds from February when it stumbled badly in a single game qualifier against Honduras.
The US looked lethargic and unassertive against the Catrachos, sparking more questions about Klinsmann’s ability to steward the States through a qualifying campaign that sees the strongest front-to-back CONCACAF field perhaps ever.
And now the US skipper will have to attempt to answer those questions without even close to his best arsenal.
Tim Howard, Tim Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Edgar Castillo, Danny Williams, Jose Torres all out for this pair of matches.
Veteran Carlos Bocanegra not recalled from Racing Santander (though deemed Monday not out of the national team picture by Klinsmann) where he cannot get on the pitch for the second division Spanish side.
Clint Dempsey has just returned to game action for Tottenham Hotspur and looked rusty against Fulham on Sunday.
Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi and Maurice Edu all carry yellow cards which will rule them out of the Mexico clash if they pick up one during the Costa Rica game.
That’s more than a stacked deck against Klinsmann; it’s the whole casino.
Yet, the States need this result badly against the Ticos more so than even a draw against El Tri at the Azteca next Tuesday.
In CONCACAF, defending home turf is imperative in order to escape with a World Cup berth. With the US coming of a defeat on the road and staring at a probable loss in their next match, a result–a win that is–moves the US forward with serious but doable work to do coming out of this home-and-away camp. A loss puts the US in a precarious position and squarely an underdog in finding its way to Brazil 2014.
The States will need to manage a talented Costa Rican front three while relying on their midfield to provide defensive cover and generate service up the pitch in parallel, something that midfield group has struggled mightify with over the the past two years.
That said, the complexion of the Costa Rica team and where the US has experience on the field bodes well for a good result for the States in the Rockies.
Without further Freddy Adu, let’s get to our customary preview:
As usual, it goes:
About The Opponent: Costa Rica
TSG, What We’re Looking For
11 At The Whistle
NEW: Fan Feedback
About The Opponent: Costa Rica
Once the continual “bronze medalist” from CONCACAF, the Costa Rican team has stumbled to the middle of the pack ever since Jonathan Bornstein drilled home a US corner kick at the death in the final CONCACAF qualifying game in 2009.
That Borstein header forced the Ticos into an ill-fated home-and-away series with CONMEBOL’s Uruguay for the right to go World Cup 2010. The Ticos met their demise as Uruguay started to steam its way to the label of 2010 World Cup darling.
Though not as sensational as the phrase may sound, you could say the Ticos have never been the same since.
Gone after the 2010 cup run is midfield general Walter Centeno, long the heart and soul of the Costa Rican team and, at 137 games played, the team’s all-time cap leader. Likewise for Rolando Fonsecu, the Ticos all-time leading scorer with 47 deposits in 113 caps; the forward called it quits from international play in 2011.
Like the US, the Ticos have struggled since change occurred at the top after the 2011 Gold Cup. Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto is back for his second try at leading the team. Players have been juggled in and out of the line-up and many have been moved into roles where they don’t see time on their club teams. The line-up deployed deployed Friday will likely contain at least two changes from Costa Rica’s February qualifier.
The lack of homogeneity has–like it has the USMNT–resulted in its attackers often being starved for service and the team forced to have a moment or two of brilliance to pull out a result.
That’s exactly what happened in February when the Ticos needed a header from Alvaro Saborio and moment of wizardy from the soon-to-be-much-discussed Bryan Ruiz to escape Panama with a 2-2 draw.
While it’s simple to see just how Costa Rica can punish the opposition when the ball and team get forward with frequency, a clear cut definition of roles in the Ticos’s 4-3-3 is not wholly possible.
One can almost consider Costa Rica’s attack similar to that of the Premiership’s Manchester City where the width is provided by galavanting fullbacks and the front five are given license to roam and make runs, many focused on checking to or overloading the ball-side.
Given the point of attack, Costa Rica push their fullbacks extremely high up the pitch. They do this especially well on the left where
Christopher Meneses gets and stays forward often, almost functioning as a wingback at times. (Update: According to feedback, Everton man Brian Oviedo is the first choice option at the wingback position).
Ahead of the back four is a double pivot midfield set up in top-heavy triangle who serve as ball carriers, forward pivots and “switch-field” artists to generate the Tico attack.
That pairing could be Ariel Rodríguez and Celso Borges. Rodriguez sits as the link to the front while Borges–who was horrible and thus substituted early for Michael Barrantes against Panama–serves as a deeper fulcrum and will have more defensive duties. Disclaimer again as that the play is very fluid and the midfield pawns frequently interchange.