The U.S. Men’s National Team will close its 2020 January Camp by taking on familiar foe Costa Rica on Saturday, Feb. 1 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. (3:55 p.m. ET; ESPNNews, UniMás and TUDN).
Here are five things you should know about Los Ticos going into the match:
Costa Rica’s recent ascendance to Concacaf contender and international success followed many years as the best team in Central America. Los Ticos won seven of 10 CCCF competitions – a tournament that was contested by Central American and Caribbean countries prior to the formation of Concacaf in 1961.
Costa Rica won the Gold Cup’s predecessor, the Concacaf Championship, in 1963, 1969 and 1989. The last title earned Costa Rica a trip to its first World Cup in 1990, where it beat Scotland and Sweden in group play to reach the Round of 16 in Italy.
In 2002, Costa Rica started a stretch of four World Cup appearances in five cycles and even earned another win in the group stage, this time against China. But they wouldn’t return to the knockout phase until 2014 in Brazil, where they won a group featuring Uruguay, Italy and England before falling to The Netherlands via penalty kicks in the Quarterfinals.
At the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Los Ticos dropped its first two matches to Serbia and Brazil before bowing out of the tournament with a 2-2 draw against Switzerland.
With Gustavo Matosas stepping down as manager last September, former Costa Rica international Ronald Gonzalez took charge three weeks later. A defender on the nation’s 1990 FIFA World Cup team, Gonzalez earned 60 caps for Los Ticos during a 10-year international career and previously served as head coach of the Costa Rica U-20 MNT from 2008-11 and as a care-taker boss for the senior team for a few matches in that time span.
Gonzalez has also managed Guatemalan club Comunicaciones on two occasions (2013; 2017-18), as well as Costa Rican giants Saprissa (2013-14) and Uruguay de Coronado (2016).
HERE AND NOW
Gaining new management just before the fall’s Concacaf Nations League campaign, Costa Rica stumbled somewhat early under Gonzalez, drawing 1-1 at Haiti (Oct. 10) and 0-0 at home against Curaçao (Oct. 13). On the ropes going into the November matches, Costa Rica got a needed result a month later when it defeated Curaçao 2-1 in Willemstad (Nov. 14) before another 1-1 home draw with Haiti (Oct. 17) lifted the team to the top spot in its group and advance to the Concacaf Nations League Final Round.
Like the USA, Costa Rica will use the early-year friendly to prepare for a big campaign for its men’s program. Eight players on their January Camp squad are age-eligible for the 2020 Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship, where they will face Jason Kreis’ side in the pivotal opening match on March 20 in Guadalajara.
On the senior side, Los Ticos will hope to upset Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League semifinal in June before tackling the final round of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying beginning in September.
HISTORY VS. USMNT
First meeting on Aug. 19, 1975, the U.S. and Costa Rica have played 38 times, with the sides splitting the series with an even 16-16-6 mark.
On home soil, the USA holds a strong 16-6-4 advantage, last using goals from Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola to defeat Costa Rica 2-0 in the January Camp ending friendly on Feb. 2, 2019 in San Jose, Calif.
Ronald González named a 23-player squad for Saturday’s friendly against the United States. With the match falling outside the FIFA window, like the USA, Costa Rica will rely mainly on domestic-based players as well as seven that play in Major League Soccer, with numerous connections between the two sides:
- The most senior player on the squad with 80 caps, center back Giancarlo Gonzalez is teammates with Sebastian Lletget and Ulysses Llanez at the LA Galaxy. He also played for USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter at Columbus Crew SC in 2014.
- Defender Joseph Mora and midfielder Ulises Segura partner with Paul Arriola and Bill Hamid at D.C. United.
- Left back Rónald Matarrita is teammates with U.S. goalkeeper Sean Johnson at New York City FC, while Luis Diaz plays alongside Gyasi Zardes at Columbus Crew SC.
- Ariel Lassiter, who is the son of former U.S. international Roy Lassiter, is also part of the Costa Rica squad. Lassiter briefly represented the U.S. U-23 MNT in 2015 and was part of the LA Galaxy organization from 2015-18.
While neither team has the full complement of its player pool to choose from, Costa Rica will bring a more experienced squad for the match.