The United States and Costa Rica wrap up their Concacaf Nations League camps with a friendly tonight. The two sides will face off in their 39th match since 1975. The Yanks have a narrow edge over the Ticos, with a 17W-5D-16L record in all competitions. It’s the final opportunity for either side to play before their Gold Cup campaigns kick off in July.
Tonight could also see a pair of Nashville SC teammates line up against each other. Midfielder Randall Leal is one of the first names on Costa Rica’s team sheet, and started both of their Nations League matches. Defender Walker Zimmerman was added to the squad yesterday, replacing Matt Miazga. This would be the second time the two teammates have played each other internationally after a 1-0 win by the U.S. in February 2020.
The USMNT are fresh off an epic win over Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League final. Despite a poor start, the Yanks rallied from behind twice before winning the match in extra time, thanks to a Christian Pulisic penalty kick. The win was a needed statement from this group of mostly European-based players heading into World Cup qualifying in the fall.
Despite the win, their Nations League performance raised some questions.
Striker is still a concern. Josh Sarget started both matches in the Nations League, and while he showed improvement against Mexico, he hasn’t found the back of the net consistently, and his timing looked strangely off in both matches. Jordan Pefok scored the winner over Honduras off the bench, and put in a great shift against Mexico. His stock has gone up significantly after these last two matches, and should be in the conversation to start this fall.
Daryl Dike is possibly the most interesting name in the pool right now. The Orlando City striker went on loan to Barnsley in the English Championship, where he ran rampant initially before slowing down. He’ll be back with Orlando following the international break, but nine goals in 19 appearances for Barnsley has increased his demand, and there are sure to be international suitors. He’s been added to the active roster for tonight’s friendly, and should be given a chance to see the field.
Holding midfield is another major question mark. Jackson Yueill started against Honduras, but timid passing and some poor defending raised questions about his fit at this level. Tyler Adams is the locked in starter when healthy, but a healthy Adams has been a rarity in recent years. Colorado’s Kellyn Acosta has made a resurgence into the national team picture, and was one of the better performers against Mexico. He’s making a strong case to play a bigger role in the fall.
And after Sunday night, center-back suddenly seems like an open race to partner John Brooks. Mark McKenzie is young and incredibly promising, but made a few unfortunate mistakes in his two matches, one of which put the U.S. in a hole against Mexico. Tim Ream started on the left of a 3-4-3, and while he’s a solid veteran, his lack of pace is a major concern, and at 33, he’s a known comodity.
Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman was added to the camp yesterday as Matt Miazga departed to prepare for his wedding. Gregg Berhalter has already confirmed that the reigning MLS Defender of the Year will be on the roster for the Gold Cup in July, but his addition tonight could be seen as a chance to earn a bigger role with the first-choice group. Aaron Long is injured for the rest of the year, Chris Richards is dealing with a short-term injury, and neither Ream nor McKenzie looked like sure things in the Nations League. A positive display from Zimmerman tonight and later this summer could put him in contention to start next to Brooks in World Cup qualifying.
The Ticos fell in penalty kicks in both of their Nations League matches. After an impressive showing against Mexico, they were rather disappointing against Honduras in the third place match.
Costa Rica find themselves in an interesting position. While they have several exciting players like Randall Leal, Manfred Ugalde, Luis Diaz and Gerson Torres, the core group of their squad is on the wrong side of 30. The team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup is mostly out of the picture, and the young players on that side are now the veterans for the current group. The Ticos are in a bit of a transition.
Costa Rica have already secured a berth in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, and will be one of the favorites heading into the Gold Cup. But they’ll really need their young crop of players to step up and take charge at the international level to succeed.
While tonight is just a friendly, a result against their local rivals would soften the disappointment of their Nations League performance, at least to some extent.
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Costa Rica showed against Mexico (and really since 2014) that they’re comfortable without the ball, and will put the pressure on the United States to break them down and create. Still, the quality on the U.S. roster is significant, and they’ll have all the momentum after their statement victory against Mexico. I think the U.S. wins this one 2-0.
Teams: United States vs Costa Rica
FIFA World Rankings: United States (20), Costa Rica (50)
Odds: United States (-170), Draw (+270) Costa Rica (+430) via FanDuel
Date: Wednesday, June 9
Time: 6:00PM Central
Venue: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
TV: ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN
Forecast: 90°/64°. Clear. 0% chance of rain. 17% humidity.