Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Costa Rica is focused on doing one thing in their Gold Cup group stage finale against the U.S. Men’s National Team, and it’s not what most might initially think.
Rather than set their sights towards obtaining revenge after suffering a 1-0 loss to the U.S. in a memorable World Cup qualifier played on an extremely snowy night in Colorado back in March, the Ticos are aiming on trying to play attacking soccer when the two nations meet again at Rentschler Field on Tuesday night.
Costa Rica enters the match with some question marks surrounding an offense that needed an own goal to knock off Belize, 1-0, last Saturday. That is not discouraging them from trying to go blow-for-blow with an in-form U.S. team that has scored 16 goals in its past three games, especially since Costa Rica’s defense has posted seven straight shutouts since that unforgettable match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“We just went over the film from the Belize game and defensively all we conceded was one attack from a free kick,” Costa Rica head coach Jorge Luis Pinto said during his pre-game press conference on Monday. “That was it in the whole game. We also had 178 passes in the second half, which indicates we dominated possession.
“Obviously, the U.S. are going to be a team that is more aggressive, that is going to fight for the ball just as much as we do, that can recover quickly and will look to use the ball. We’re going to be cautious of that, but more importantly is that we’re going to try to have the ball and attack.”
The Ticos opened their Gold Cup with a 3-0 win vs. Cuba, a match that saw them held to a 0-0 halftime score. The Belize match saw them create a plethora of chances, but they were unable to finish any of them.
The lack of goals might be a cause for concern, but Costa Rica is still entering Tuesday’s match confident about being able to create chances, though even the Ticos players acknowledge they will need to step up their game to have a chance of beating the in-form Americans.
“I thought we played well in the attack [vs. Belize],” said center midfielder Michael Barrantes, who scored twice in Costa Rica’s win vs. Cuba. “Maybe we didn’t score the goals that we wanted, or thought we could, but what mattered was the three points.
“All games are different and we need to improve,” added Barrantes. “The United States is different than Belize and different than Cuba so we have to improve to be ready for that game.”
From a defensive standpoint, Costa Rica will have its hands full. The U.S. attack, led by Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski, has found goals in abundance in its last few matches and confidence amongst the Americans is pretty high.
Still, Costa Rica knows that being careful with the ball and negating a U.S. midfield corps that includes Donovan, Joe Corona and Kyle Beckerman is critical in order to have any shot of picking up three points against Jurgen Klinsmann’s side.
“We have to know how to control the game,” said Pinto. “We know they have a lot of important players in the attack. Donovan is raising his game, Corona sees the field and opens it well, Beckerman is someone who provides quite a bit and [Diskerud], too. At the same time, we have to make the U.S. think about us a bit, too.”
All this is not to say that the Costa Ricans have completely forgotten about the snowy World Cup qualifier back in March. In fact, they remember it quite vividly, even if they are not using it as a source of motivation for Tuesday’s encounter.
“I’ve said 10,000 times that no we shouldn’t have [played that game in those conditions]. It was absurd,” said Pinto. “After the game, everyone from federations and from soccer around the world said that didn’t make any sense. No one in their right mind would have allowed a match like that to be played.”
Costa Rica may not have completely wiped that 1-0 defeat from their minds, but the game plan for the U.S. remains the same, and that could lead to a free-flowing game that might pan out in the Ticos’ favor if they show a little more sharpness and composure in the final third.
“We have to be compact because we know they attack well down the wings, so we have to try and negate that,” said Roy Miller, “but we also have to play to our strengths and continue to try and create chances and get goals.”