US Men’s Soccer defeat rival Costa Rica

The U.S. Men’s National Team beat Concacaf rival Costa Rica 1-0 in a spirited match before 9,172 fans at Dignity Health Sports Park thanks to a second half PK conversion by Los Angeles native Ulysses Llanez.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter sent out the youngest ever starting XI for a January camp match; a lineup that included four players making their senior international debuts. Berhalter would hand three more players their debuts as substitutes in the second half as the USA used the match to get players experience playing together for the upcoming Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying tournament that begins in late March and for the culmination of Concacaf Nations League play in the summer and the start of World Cup qualifying in September.

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The USA began the game as the more aggressive side and looked likely to score as it carved out a handful of near chances in the first 15 minutes – an Arriola opportunity in particular drew a fine save from Costa Rica goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado, who kept the Ticos within striking distance throughout the hard fought match with four saves.

In the 20th minute, Alvarado collided with Llanez as the two went for a long ball played into the Costa Rica box. Both players were able to continue after the hit, which seemed to jar the Ticos into the match with Giancarlo González crashing a headed shot off the cross bar only minutes later during a 24th minute tribute to recently passed Los Angeles Lakers basketball legend Kobe Bryant.

Bryant would feature again in the second half when Llanez celebrated scoring the game’s winning goal – a well-taken penalty kick conversion in the 50th minute – by pretending to shoot a jump shot as his teammates surrounded the native Angeleno.

The teams traded chances in an intensifying second half that saw the introduction of numerous subs by both sides in a match that will serve Berhalter’s men well as they soon begin their club campaigns and reconvene in short order when the U-23 Men’s National Team begins Olympic qualifying on March 20 and the senior MNT heads to Europe for a pair of friendlies against the Netherlands and Wales in late March.