There are three objectives at stake in the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship: qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, reaching the 2024 Summer Olympics, and winning the tournament. The United States Women’s National Team accomplished the first task and now looks forward to the semifinal round against Costa Rica. The match is set for the Estadio Universitario in San Nicolás de los Garza, Mexico.
The two nations have faced off 16 times, with the USWNT holding a 16-0-0 advantage. Costa Rica reached the W Championship by finishing atop Group B during qualifying with a 4-0-0 record, coasting past Saint Kitts and Nevis, Guatemala, Curaçao, and the U.S. Virgin Islands with a 22-0 goal differential. During the group stage, Las Ticas dispatched Panama, 3-0, and Trinidad and Tobago, 4-0, before losing to Canada, 1-0.
Former assistant and youth coach Amelia Valverde was promoted to the manager role in January of 2015, having successfully guided the program to a second-ever World Cup qualification. She has Costa Rica ranked at 37th in the FIFA rankings, but the squad is steadily improving. The 35-year-old preaches “respect for the shirt” and refuses to look past any opponent.
“We expect a highly demanding match against the two-time world champion,” said an upbeat Valverde after putting a scare into Canada. “We would expect a strong rival, but in each match we go out to compete, to try the best possible match and seek classification... We are in a select group that is going to be in a World Cup and we are aware that from this moment on, this is the scenario that we are going to run into.”
— FCRF (@fedefutbolcrc) June 29, 2022
Estas serán las jugadoras que disputarán el boleto al Mundial 2023 y Juegos Olímpicos 2024 en el Campeonato de Concacaf 2022.
¡VAMOS MUCHACHAS, SI SE PUEDEEE! #FCRF #LaSeleFemenina pic.twitter.com/xdskwxBpZz
Valverde named a 23-player roster for the competition, a group described as having “no major surprises” with a mix of experience and youth. Domestic powers Alajuelense, Herediano, Sporting, and Saprissa provided 16 of the call-ups. Contrary to many CONCACAF squads, only six talents are based abroad, with a mere single one in the National Women’s Soccer League.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Noelia Bermúdez (Alajuelense), Priscilla Tapia (Herediano), Daniela Solera (Santa Teresa)
DEFENDERS (8): Gabriela Guillén (Alajuelense), María Paula Coto (Alajuelense), Mariana Benavides (Herediano), Valeria del Campo (Monterrey), Carol Sánchez (Sporting FC), Daniela Cruz (Saprissa), Lixy Rodríguez (Alajuelense), Cristel Sandí (Saprissa)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Shirley Cruz (Alajuelense), Emilie Valenciano (Sporting FC), Priscila Chinchilla (Glasgow City), Katherine Alvarado (Saprissa), Viviana Chincilla (Alajuelense)
FORWARDS (7): Melissa Herrera (Bordeaux), Carolina Venegas (Saprissa), Raquel Rodríguez (Portland Thorns), Cristin Granados (Sporting FC), Michelle Montero (Cruz Azul), María Paula Salas (Unattached), Fabiola Villalobos (Alajuelense)
Valverde has used a 4-3-3 formation, with vertical-minded attackers looking to push the tempo. Whether from the run of play or impeccably-designed set pieces, Las Ticas thrive on converting crosses, displaying composure and excellent placement on finishes. This is an intelligent, well-coached squad that has been playing together for years and rarely gets rattled into silly cautions.
Over the past year, Valverde has settled on Daniela Solera as the number-one option. The 24-year-old competes with Santa Teresa, moving to Spain after winning the Colombian League and Copa Libertadores. An acrobatic 6’ shot-stopper, she easily covers the width of the net and has little issue sacrificing her body when charging into a crowd. Her long, looping punts are a bit of a unique challenge, potentially causing chaos if bouncing in the wrong direction.
Center back Mariana Benavides competes with Herediano and has been a regular with the national team since debuting at 19 years old. The hometown Heredia local scored twice during qualifying, serving as a target on set pieces. Despite being listed as a forward, Fabiola Villalobos started on defense against Costa Rica. She is strong in possession and looks to play long passes out of the back, having the physical strength to shield away attackers and plow into challenges.
¡Goooool! María Paula Coto anota el segundo para la Sele.— Repretel (@RepretelCR) June 25, 2022
A decade into her international career, Saprissa fullback Daniela Cruz is a key member of the squad, possessing a high level of technical ability. She is keen to join the attack and can pick out a teammate from anywhere on the field, serving as a valuable creator on the wing. On the other side of the formation is María Paula Coto of Alajuelense. The physical 24-year-old has a goal-scoring touch, particularly when pouncing on loose balls during corner kicks.
Costa Rica received two goals from Cristin Granados during the group-stage fixture against Trinidad and Tobago. She thrives when receiving the ball just outside the box and is given space to operate. Saprissa’s Katherine Alvarado is one of the program’s most consistent players, registering over 75 caps since debuting in 2010. The 31-year-old is lethal on set pieces and runs the channels well, perfectly splitting defenders. The roster’s best and most important talent is Raquel “Rocky” Rodríguez of the Portland Thorns, winner of the 2015 Mac Hermann Trophy and a part of last year’s NWSL Shield and Challenge Cup-claiming squads. Her typical spot is behind the striker, allowing her to push deep into the final third and serve as a target on crosses.
Attacker Melissa Herrera has a high work-rate, striving to “run all the time with or without the ball.” The 25-year-old competes with Bordeaux in France’s Division 1 Féminine and makes diagonal runs behind the back line, often stationed higher than the strikers. On the opposite wing is Glasgow City’s Priscila Chinchilla, who won Player of the Year last season after scoring 23 goals. Described as having “a low center of gravity” which enables her to “spin away from [opponents] to set up chances for her and her teammates,” she tirelessly dribbles at defenders and has a devastating long-distance shooting range.
Costa Rica’s formation is led by the youngest member of the squad, 19-year-old María Paula Salas, who made her senior international debut at the 2018 edition of the tournament. Considered one of the region’s top attacking prospects, she spent the spring with ChievoVerona in Italy after past moves to Europe were derailed by “COVID and a shoulder injury.” Like a true number nine, her finishes come in all shapes and sizes: direct free kicks, receiving the ball with back to goal, running onto passes, and headers.
Purely on a talent basis, the USWNT should be heavily favored to win this match. However, knockout rounds have been known to yield strange results, with Costa Rica’s veteran leadership perhaps holding some advantage over the young, inexperienced opponent. These two teams could produce a high-scoring, back-and-forth exhibition of attacking football which will interest both fans and neutral viewers, but expect a cagier affair with a spot in the final on the line.