After both teams won their second Group C games, the United States and Costa Rica will face off on Tuesday night (8 pm, FSC, UniMás, Univision Deportes, Fox Soccer 2Go) with each already assured of a place in the quarterfinals, but with the seeding still to play for. The U.S. will top the group with either a draw or a win, while Costa Rica needs to defeat the U.S. in order to be the higher seed.
Slow starters: Against Cuba, the U.S. continued to display its troubling recent tendency to start games slowly. First-half passes were slow or wayward, crosses went out of play, and many players who had performed well to that point looked off the pace. Such was the lack of urgency that the U.S. were caught unawares and Cuba took the lead. That the U.S. came back so strongly is good news, but another game that should have been a shut-out was marred unnecessarily. Against Costa Rica—a team now riding a 704-minute shut-out streak—and the teams in the quarterfinals and beyond, the U.S. won’t be able to rely on simply out-scoring the opponent. Sharpness from the opening whistle will be required.
Wondo awakened: Having now scored five goals in two Gold Cup games, Chris Wondolowski is doing more than perhaps any other player to stake his claim to be included in the World Cup roster that goes to Brazil. More than that, he may be pushing Herculez Gomez from his starting spot in the Gold Cup. Gomez struggled against Cuba, so don’t be surprised if Wondolowski gets the nod up front against Costa Rica.
Defensive wobbles: With captain DaMarcus Beasley rested, Edgar Castillo started at left back against Cuba, and Oguchi Onyewu returned to central defense. Both were culpable for the Cuban goal, though the defense was put under pressure due to a turnover upfield rather than their own mistakes. Still, allowing inferior teams to score is symptomatic of larger issues of organization and concentration. It may be the case that the U.S. is simply the best team in the tournament, even with a shaky D, but it is also likely that there will come a game where the U.S. struggles to score for a full 90 minutes. When that happens, those defensive mistakes will be a lot more costly.
Roster rotation: As expected, Kyle Beckerman retained his midfield spot, with Stuart Holden and then Mix Diskerud beside him. And, as expected, his play slowed the U.S. down, though he was improved, and provided the assist for the third U.S. goal. He, along with Rimando and Donovan, will start against Costa Rica. As for the rest of the squad, it appears coach Jürgen Klinsmann is still tinkering, trying to find our what his best 11 is, with both Brek Shea and Tony Beltran getting starts against Cuba. Expect some further rotation against Costa Rica. While beating Costa Rica is certainly the goal, having secured qualification for the quarterfinals, there is still room for experimentation. That said, Philadelphia fans should not expect to see Jack McInerney on the field.
Point to prove: The last time these two teams met was the now-infamous Snow Game. That day, the snow fell so fast that field markings were obscured, and the ball dug furrows through drifts. Post-match, Costa Rica lodged an official protest with FIFA, saying the conditions warranted that the game be replayed, but were denied. The Costa Rican team feels, rightly or wrongly, that on a clear field, they would have defeated the U.S. with ease. Before the two teams meet on Sept. 6 in a World Cup qualifier, this is Costa Rica’s chance to prove it, and the U.S. needs to be prepared for the level of effort and commitment the entire Costa Rican squad will bring.
704 minutes: That’s how long the Costa Rican team has gone without giving up a goal. Costa Rica is no Cuba, and it’s certainly no Belize, so scoring on them will be no easy feat. That said, the Costa Ricans required a Belizean own goal in order to get a win, so they aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders, either.
Costa Rica will be a tough nut to crack. They also have a much greater capacity to punish any U.S. mistakes, with players like Jairo Arrieta and Alvaro Saborio ready to let fly at any opportunity. However, from the evidence of the first two group games, the U.S. is a better, more clinical team. If the U.S. can maintain concentration for 90 minutes, and up the tempo of its play from the start, then the U.S. wins, 2–1.