The United States men’s national team continues the journey toward redemption and is opening the year with a friendly against Costa Rica at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Manager Gregg Berhalter named a 22-player squad for the match. After canceling a planned camp in Qatar, the USMNT spent the past month training at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Costa Rica struggled in last fall’s CONCACAF Nations League group stage, winning one out of four matches, but still advanced to this summer’s playoffs. Los Ticos are one of the top teams in CONCACAF, having qualified for four of the past five World Cups. The two nations have an all-time 16-16-6 record.
Manager Rónald González was recently hired following a stint with Comunicaciones in Guatemala, though he has served as national team caretaker manager several times. Costa Rica is transitioning away from key veterans and attempting to integrate young talent ahead of the 2022 World Cup. For the friendly, González called in a 23-player squad. “This game is an important opportunity to see players, especially young [players]… who may have not had much participation with me,” he told Fedefutbol.com.
It is difficult to predict a starting lineup for a friendly match. Costa Rica is missing several regular roster inclusions, and González could opt for experimentation. However, he might also want to see how his best available players fit together.
Costa Rica’s Projected Lineup
Attackers: Johan Venegas, Marco Ureña
Midfielders: Randall Leal, David Guzmán, Ulises Segura, Marvin Loría
Defenders: Ronald Matarrita, Giancarlo González, Keyner Brown, Keysher Fuller
Goalkeeper: Esteban Alvarado
During recent matches, González deployed a 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, and a 5-3-2 formation. Based on the available players and recent lineup selections, it’s likely he will opt for a 4-4-1-1. The Ticos back line and midfield is compact when dealing with direct play, but have a tendency for bad giveaways and leaving too much space between the attacking and defending lines. In 2019, their goal scoring relied on finishing crosses and capitalizing on set pieces. There were frequent long range shot attempts and occasional runs behind the opponent’s defense, but these were largely unsuccessful.
Johan Venegas, traditionally a midfielder, has been pushed to second striker in recent matches. The Saprissa player is capable of scoring in bunches and has been on a tear at the club level. Venegas slices past defenders and wreaks havoc when given enough space on the wing. Marco Ureña likely will be his partner up top. The 29-year-old Alajuelense striker hasn’t been called up since the 2018 World Cup and has struggled with finishing throughout his career. While not a prolific scorer, he is a hard worker and creates opportunities for teammates.
Expect an appearance from emerging star Manfred Ugalde. The 17-year-old Saprissa forward was named the Best Young Player at the 2019 CONCACAF League after scoring four goals. He makes perfectly timed runs behind the back line and constantly find space in the opponent’s box.
Randall Leal – signed to Major League Soccer expansion side Nashville SC – is a fast player who is comfortable leading a counter attack and shooting from distance. Ronald González specifically noted Marvin Loría’s inclusion in the camp because the young attacker hasn’t been a part of any recent rosters. The Portland Timbers winger shoots from distance and has a tendency to drift toward the center of the field. Ariel Lassiter, a former U.S. youth international, was also named to the squad. He’s earned five caps and has been lighting it up at the club level with 13 goals and six assists.
Defensive midfielder David Guzmán recently returned to Costa Rica after three seasons in MLS. He provides a calm veteran presence in the midfield with 54 caps and sprays the ball all over the field. Due to the match being a friendly, Costa Rica might opt for a more attacking starting lineup instead of utilizing two holding midfielders. This creates an opportunity for D.C. United’s Ulises Segura. The 26-year-old box-to-box midfielder can hold onto the ball for a very long time and is capable of finishing chances.
Costa Rica has a very strong and experienced back line, which has perhaps influenced the recent usage of a 5-3-2 formation. However, Kendall Waston (FC Cincinnati) and Francisco Calvo (Chicago Fire) were not released by their clubs for the friendly. Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC) and Giancarlo González (LA Galaxy) are capable of locking down the opposition and contributing to the attack on dead ball situations. Right back Keysher Fuller made his international debut last February and featured twice in the Nations League.
If Costa Rica opts for experience, it’s likely Keyner Brown partners with González in the center of the back line. The 28-year old defender has been a regular with Herediano. Under-23 defenders Pablo Arboine and Kevin Espinoza could also see playing time at center back to gain experience ahead of Olympic qualifying.
Costa Rica is without the services of Paris Saint-Germain’s Keylor Navas, the undisputed best goalkeeper in the region. Herediano’s Esteban Alvarado should start in his place, but, despite being an above average shot stopper, is no replacement for the three-time CONCACAF Men’s Goalkeeper of the Year. He’s earned 16 caps since debuting for the national team in 2010 and started in November’s Nations League matches while Navas was out with an injury.
It’s difficult to predict the outcome of friendlies because so much can change after a mass substitution and there are no consequences for experimental tactics. Since it’s a home match for Berhalter’s team, which has trained together for a month, expect the USMNT to emerge victorious over a half-strength Costa Rica.