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USA vs. Costa Rica preview: Berhalter faces stiff test against Costa Rica

The Gregg Berhalter era got off to a flying start as the US trounced Panama 3-0 on Sunday night in Glendale, Arizona. With the win, Berhalter became just the third US manager to win his debut match. Five players made their first ever appearance for the US. A number of the new kids gave a good account of themselves as the US dominated possession and never really looked threatened or even uncomfortable. This all needs to be taken with a grain of salt, however. All due respect to Panama but this was essentially what is best described as their D team. This game was always designed so that the US and Berhalter could get a win under their belts to start this new era. That’s not to say that winning is a bad thing. It’s not. Winning is contagious and the US should strive to do it as often as possible by as large a margin as possible. The next opportunity to do so is against Costa Rica.

While many of the new players were impressive against Panama, Nick Lima was perhaps the best player on the field. Not only was he excellent defensively, but he turned in the best play of the night when he won the ball at midfield after tracking back to make a tackle before serving up a gorgeous ball for Walker Zimmerman to head home to put the game to bed for the US. Djordje Mihailovic got the scoring started late in the first half and had several other good chances. Christian Ramirez got the final goal a few minutes from time after coming on as a sub. Zack Steffen didn’t have much to do for the majority of the game but did make an important save early in the second half. And even Michael Bradley played a good game, which has led to grandiose proclamations that he’s back to being the best US player (though as Commodore Norrington said in Pirates of the Caribbean, “One good deed is not enough to redeem a lifetime of wickedness.”) Yes, Bradley played well but for him to get back into the good graces of the fans he is going to need to play well more often and against better competition. The lone gloomy spot was perhaps Gyasi Zardes who had several fantastic chances but either sent them over the bar or right at the keeper.

All in all there’s not too much to complain about with the performance from Sunday. Getting a win was good. Scoring three goals was good. And keeping a clean sheet was good. Again, the quality of the opposition was not great as they did not have their full squad (though neither did the US) but a win is a win and that’s not something that can be discounted. It was a bit surprising to learn that Sunday was just the fifth time the US has won a game since the Gold Cup triumph in July of 2017. It took 18 months and 17 games for the US to get five wins, two of which came against Panama, funnily enough. Every new coach in every sport talks about starting a new culture of winning, but for the US it’s vitally important because if the sparse crowd of 9,000 people on Sunday showed anything, it’s that the fans are checked out on the team, and only winning consistently will bring them back. The US gets another chance to do that when they take on Costa Rica.

Costa Rica, unlike the US, actually qualified for the World Cup last summer. And while they performed better in Russia than Panama did, they too finished bottom of their group and failed to win a game. They lost their opening game 1-0 to Serbia on a beautiful free kick by Aleksandar Kolarov. They then took Brazil all the way to stoppage time tied at 0-0 before Coutinho and Neymar broke their hearts to escape 2-0 winners. The managed to get a 2-2 draw in the final game against Switzerland but by that point they had already been eliminated and were just playing for pride. Since the World Cup, it’s bee rough going, though they did achieve a small turnaround in November. They lost their first four games after the World Cup: 2-0 to South Korea, 3-0 to Japan, 3-2 to Mexico, and 3-1 to Colombia. But in November they achieved a couple of surprise away wins in South America: 3-2 against Chile and 3-2 against Peru. Their new manager is Gustavo Matosas. Born in Argetina, Matosas has managed a number of clubs around the world (including Club Leon, Club America, and Club Atlas in Mexico) but this is his first international job. The roster of 20 players he called up is a pretty young and inexperienced one, with only five of the players having earned more than ten caps (though three of those five have 43 or more while the other two have 11). Most of the players are domestically based but six of them ply their trade in the US: Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Waylon Francis (Seattle Sounders), Joseph Mora (DC United), David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Allan Cruz (FC Cincinnati), and Marvin Loria (Portland Timbers). None of the 20 players on this roster have scored more than 4 goals for the Ticos.


1. During World Cup Qualifying, Costa Rica beat the US twice by a combined score of 6-0.
2. Gregg Berhalter became just the third US manager to win his debut. The other two are Bob Bradley in 2007 and Bora Milutinovic in 1991.
3. Sunday’s game against Panama was the 8th US game to draw under 10,000 fans since October of 2015.

When and where to find the US-Costa Rica game on US TV

Saturday, February 2, 2019
Avaya Stadium
San Jose, California
3:30pm ET
Live on FOX, UniMas, Univision Deportes Network, Sling Blue and fuboTV (free trial)

All-Time Series

USA trails 15-16-6

Last Meeting

September 1, 2017
Red Bull Arena
Harrison, New Jersey
USA 0-2 Costa Rica

Current FIFA Ranking

USA: 25
Costa Rica: 36

Next Game

USA vs. Chile (friendly)
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
BBVA Compass Stadium
Houston, Texas

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