The United States faces its toughest test of the Gold Cup, as it takes on Costa Rica in the semifinals tonight at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Los Ticos are coming off of a narrow 1-0 victory quarterfinal against Panama, thanks to an own goal. Costa Rica made it to the knockout stages after winning group A, beating Honduras 1-0, drawing Canada 1-1, and defeating French Guiana 3-0.
Costa Rica holds a 15-14-5 all-time record against the USMNT. The last time the two teams met was in a November 2016 World Cup Qualifier. The Central Americans won that match 4-0 (Jurgen Klinsmann’s last game as USMNT coach).
Costa Rica Roster:
Goalkeepers: Dany Carvajal (Saprissa), Leonel Moreira (Herediano), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense)
Defenders: Johnny Acosta (Herediano), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Palermo), Kenner Gutierrez (Alajuelense), Jhamir Ordain (Herediano), Jose Salvatierra (Alajuelense), Michael Umaña (Unattached), Juan Pablo Vargas (Herediano), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Midfielders: Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Jimmy Marin (Herediano), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting CP), Ulises Segura (Saprissa), Yeltsin Tejeda (FC Lausanne-Sport), Rodney Wallace (New York City FC)
Forwards: Jose Leiton (Herediano), David Ramirez (Saprissa), Ariel Rodriguez (Bangkok Glass FC), Marco Ureña (San Jose Earthquakes)
Look for head coach Oscar Ramirez to deploy a 4-5-1, as he did in the quarterfinals. Costa Rica is well organized and will look to take the game to the U.S.
Los Ticos have a balanced attack, with no player scoring more than once this Gold Cup. NYCFC midfielder Rodney Wallace is expected to be unavailable, due to an abductor injury suffered against French Guiana.
Patrick Pemberton seems to be the favorite to start in net. Pemberton is Costa Rica’s most experienced goalkeeper. He is a solid keeper, who gets to the ground quickly, but is rather short (listed at a generous 5’10”).
The defense will be anchored by Palermo center back Giancarlo Gonzalez. Gonzalez excels at intercepting passes and is very aggressive. He is a good defender, but struggles with the ball at his feet and is often undisciplined (7 yellow cards and 1 red in 21 Serie A games last season).
Gonzalez will likely partner with Vancouver’s Kendall Waston in central defense. Waston is a physical presence who wins almost all of his aerial duals. Like Gonzalez, his passing is poor.
Minnesota United’s Francisco Calvo is expected to get the nod at left back. Calvo has been one of the better defenders for a weak Minnesota team and has continued his strong play in the Gold Cup. He is a good tackler and excellent in the air, but struggles at times with his positioning and is not fast enough to be an effective attacking fullback.
Right-back Jose Salvatierra is physically weak and has difficulty to maintaining his composure. Despite these flaws, he is a good crosser, can accelerate quickly, and dribble well. Look for Salvatierra to frequently join the attack.
Expect defensive midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda to form the backbone of the Costa Rican midfield. Tejeda has an incredible work rate and seems to intercept almost every one of the opposition’s errant passes. His passing leaves much to be desired and he is a liability on defensive set-pieces, struggling greatly in the air.
Joining Tejeda in the central midfield will be Portland Timbers player David Guzman. Guzman is a hard tackling defensive midfielder who never shies away from a challenge. His long passing is pinpoint, but too frequently he gets lost in central midfield failing to track his man.
Ulises Segura should also get the nod in central midfield. He didn’t feature against Panama, but can be an important offensive threat. Segurahas been disappointing this tournament, but is a good crosser and dangerous finisher from close range. His weaknesses are his dribbling and inconsistency.
Costa Rica’s most dangerous attacker is captain Bryan Ruiz, who will likely feature on the right-wing. Ruiz has yet to score in this Gold Cup and has only contributed 1 assist. Despite his recent struggles, Ruiz remains a dangerous playmaker with excellent dribbling skills and an impressive passing range. One of Ruiz’s few weaknesses is his lack of pace.
Saprissa forward David Ramirez has a good chance to start at left-wing. Ramirez has been playing as a midfielder and has an impressive work rate and is a constant aerial threat.
However, Ramirez has been in poor form, scoring just two goals in 21 appearances during this past Portuguese top division season. Although, he did find the back of the net against French Guiana.
San Jose Earthquakes striker Marco Urena has been quite poor in MLS this season, with just two goals in 16 games. However, Urena seems to be the favored forward option for Ramirez. Urena is a poacher and deceptive dribbler. He rarely scores from outside the eighteen, but had a goal and an assist in the group stage.
Historically, Costa Rica has been a very tough opponent for the United States. Expect a close game with little to separate the two teams. I’m predicting a 2-1 USMNT victory.