The US u23’s just got over the line to register a highly significant opening victory, but needed all their craft and resolve against a better conditioned opponent.
The Costa Ricans have been playing league football consistently since September with most of the American squad enduring their longest close-season break since MLS began. And it showed.
This, and altitude, will be a factor that weighs unfavourably against the Canadians when they open their campaign against El Salvador tomorrow evening (OneSoccer.com, 6pm). The Canucks will need to display the same levels of US professionalism and grit if they are to take 3 points from central American opponents, whose players, just like Costa Rica’s, have months of consistent league play behind them.
The only goal came in the 35th minute when the Tico’s left side of defence was all at sea, allowing Ferreira all the space and time needed to convert a cross which had eluded Saucedo and a Costa Rican defender at the front post.
US coach, Jason Kreis produced a surprise, pre-match, plumping to start with the youngest of his three ‘keepers, and the Americans were thankful as Ochoa kept the scoreline blank on 17 minutes. With Chicago Fire’s Mauricio Pineda all in a tangle, Adrian Martinez found himself one-on-one with the Real Salt Lake ‘keeper, who came up big to divert the danger.
The central Americans enjoyed the bulk of possession, especially after the interval, but had neither enough craft nor guile to pierce a dogged American rearguard. David Ochoa was certainly the busiest of the goalkeepers, but he faced few shots he wouldn’t have expected to save.
As the game wore on the US side looked increasingly leggy, CF Montreal’s Djordje Mihailovic was replaced by Perea (Orlando City) just before the hour mark. But they dug deep, slowed things down, made the most of the water break and five substitutions, and simply did enough to frustrate Costa Rica, whose play became more frantic in the closing stages.
With the Mexicans hot favourites to win the group - as well as being hosts, the timing of the tournament simply favours the central American countries - this was probably the most crucial game in the round-robin.
With all sides expected to defeat the Dominican Republic, this gives the US a huge advantage in the race for a semi-final spot over Costa Rica, who probably now need to topple Mexico in their next outing. That is a huge ask.
Mexico is currently playing the Dominican Republic in the second group game of the day. After 39 mins, the hosts lead 1-0.
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 20). Recorded Wednesday evening, the TBIR team discuss the Montreal captaincy, Henry’s recent UK TV appearance, Gilmore’s CCL comments and describe what the dawning of a new season means to each of them. Plus all the usual favourite features...and a new one... Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!
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