The United States Men’s National Team has arrived at the end of the CONCACAF Octagonal, mere inches from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. The final match is against one of the region’s top programs, Costa Rica. Hosted at the Estadio Nacional in San José, the stakes are low provided Gregg Berhalter’s side can avoid surrendering handfuls of goals.
Colombian manager Luis Fernando Suárez leads Costa Rica, assuming the role last June. He has extensive experience in charge of a variety of clubs and nations, including Atlético Nacional, Ecuador, and Honduras. After a slow start to qualifying, the 62-year-old has enjoyed a reversal of fortune, unbeaten in the last six matches.
The last time these two teams met, the USMNT registered a 2-1 victory at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio. Since then, Costa Rica has risen to fourth place in the CONCACAF Octagonal table with 16 points from six matches. Los Ticos are churning through a successful window, reeling off 1-0 wins against Canada and El Salvador.
“I know very well, we have done everything in the right way,” said the manager. “Then I have to highlight the work of the team, the commitment they gave for the country. I feel a great pride in directing a spectacular human group. Everything has been very stressful, but that makes us bigger. We have some limitations and even so, we are competing and that speaks well of the courage of the Costa Rican.”
¡ELLOS SON LOS ELEGIDOS!— FEDEFUTBOL Costa Rica (@fedefutbolcrc) March 18, 2022
Esta es la lista de convocados para los juegos eliminatorios ante , y
¡VAMOOOOOS SELEEEEE! pic.twitter.com/i46TGAdlR3
Suárez initially named a 25-player roster but made several alterations, dropping Randall Leal and Aarón Suárez . There are 18 call-ups from domestic Primera División, including 13 from local powers Alajuelense and Herediano. Notable figures like Cristian Gamboa, Óscar Duarte, David Guzmán, and Allan Cruz were left out of camp.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Keylor Navas (Paris Saint-Germain), Esteban Alvarado (Herediano), Leonel Moreira (Alajuelense)
DEFENDERS (9): Francisco Calvo (San Jose Earthquakes), Bryan Oviedo (Copenhagen), Kendall Waston (Saprissa), Rónald Matarrita (FC Cincinnati), Keysher Fuller (Herediano), Juan Pablo Vargas (Millonarios), Daniel Chacón (Cartaginés), Ian Lawrence (Alajuelense), Carlos Martínez (AD San Carlos)
MIDFIELDERS (11): Celso Borges (Alajuelense), Bryan Ruiz (Alajuelense), Yeltsin Tejeda (Herediano), Alonso Martínez (Lommel), Gerson Torres (Herediano), Orlando Galo (Herediano), Jewison Bennette (Herediano), Youstin Salas (Grecia), Douglas López (Santos de Guápiles), Brandon Aguilera (Guanacasteca), Carlos Mora (Alajuelense)
FORWARDS (4): Joel Campbell (Monterrey), Johan Venegas (Alajuelense), José Guillermo Ortiz (Herediano), Anthony Contreras (Guanacasteca)
At this late stage of qualifying, the first-choice lineup is largely established, although the formation sometimes shifts between a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-6-1. Over the past five matches, Costa Rica has completely ceded possession, with an average of 32.8% of the ball (stats via ESPN). From the run of play, inwardly cutting wingers are targeted with direct passes over the top of the back line. The attack has cause for concern with 11 goals in 13 matches, but the stingy defense surrendered a mere eight during the Octagonal round.
Despite slowly being phased out of the starting role at Paris Saint-Germain, Keylor Navas is the undisputed number one for Costa Rica. He is an elite shot-stopper, setting himself up for a save with stellar footwork, sometimes a full second before the ball arrives. The three-time Champions League winner shows up in big moments, racking up dozens of saves in a single match as a routine. Perhaps indicative of this confidence is his preternatural ability to stop penalty attempts.
This is likely the last rodeo for elder statesman Kendall Waston, who competes for Saprissa in the domestic league. The 6’5” mountain is tasked with winning headers in the defensive and attacking thirds, at his best in close-range one-versus-one scenarios and preventing target strikers from turning. His partner has been the smaller and quicker Francisco Calvo of the San Jose Earthquakes, another threat on set pieces. The 29-year-old is a hard tackler that loves to go to ground and gamble on interceptions, making long solo runs after regaining possession.
Keysher Fuller should be familiar to USMNT fans from the busy home fixture, scoring in the first minute and misplaying a ball that led to the game-winner (or loser, from Costa Rica’s perspective). The Herediano winger-fullback is comfortable in the final third, often reaching the box before the striker. He is constantly running, whether on a charged dribbling run or to chase down an opponent. The left side of the field has been a back-and-forth lineup battle between Rónald Matarrita and Bryan Oviedo. With the former suffering a devastating injury against Canada, the more static veteran will be trusted to hang back and serve as a more stable presence in the build-up.
The defensive midfielder baton may have been passed from the captain Yeltsin Tejeda to 21-year-old Orlando Galo, unless the manager opts to deploy them together. The younger player is a converted right back that tackles hard and recovers quickly after errors. In the 15th year of his senior international career, Celso Borges is still patrolling the center of the formation. Costa Rica’s cap leader facilitates possession and swarms passing lanes, performing the necessary tasks of a box-to-box. Normally a winger, Herediano’s Gerson Torres has lined up in the number ten role. He makes long, slaloming dribbling runs and has the ability to score from distance.
GOAL COSTA RICA! Celso Borges strikes just before halftime and Los Ticos lead 10-man Canada. Another twist in the Concacaf table—and not a good one for the #USMNT— SI Soccer (@si_soccer) March 25, 2022
(via @TelemundoSports) pic.twitter.com/AcmjP5BxRT
Since making his senior debut during last summer’s CONCACAF Nations League Finals, Alonso Martínez has become a regular part of the starting lineup. The Lommel SK winger plays a high line in hopes of leading the counter attack and looks to cut inside on one-two/give-and-go combinations in the final third. The goals have to come from somewhere, with the manager hoping that Joel Campbell can either score or more likely set up teammates. On the right day, his dribbling and general technical ability make him the most dangerous person on the field, with the potential to bewilder opposing defenders.
A late addition to the roster, Anthony Contreras made his debut in November but has started the last two matches. The 22-year-old striker scored 13 goals this season on loan with AD Guanacasteca in the domestic league. His inclusion was considered a “great surprise,” but the developing talent acquitted himself well. Against Canada, he played an essential role pressing the back line and forcing turnovers.
Contreras rewarded the manager’s continued faith with the opener against El Salvador, a stupendous acrobatic effort. He took advantage of a misplayed clearance and hit a beautiful bicycle for his first international goal. This could be the genesis of the next great CONCACAF striker, having answered the door when destiny unexpectedly knocked.
Anthony Contreras gets on his bike!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 27, 2022
Costa Rica are up! pic.twitter.com/JqHozcPNyP
The USMNT appears free from the burden of securing points on the road against Costa Rica. Los Ticos have been in this spot before but needs a win. As the match progresses and pressure builds, there may be openings for the American attackers to break through on the counter.
The match is scheduled for Wednesday, March 30th at 9:05 p.m. Eastern, 6:05 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Paramount+, UNIVERSO, and FUBO TV (free trial).