Chicago Fire's Gonzalo Segares: USA, Mexico no longer have automatic ticket to World Cup
If it wasn't for the fact that Chicago Fire left back Gonzalo Segares was getting married in January, he may very well have been part of Friday night's World Cup qualifier against the USA at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (10 pm ET; ESPN and UniMas, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
The Costa Rican international, who last played for the Ticos in friendlies against Venezuela and Cuba in December 2011, says he couldn't commit to a January call-up for the Copa Centroamericana, which Costa Rica won on home soil. But he's still optimistic about his nation's chances in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.
"It's one of those games you want to win and you want to beat goliath and bring down the giant," Segares said. "I don't see the US as strong as it has been in past qualifiers, but actually I don't even see Mexico the same way. Before, I would already give these two teams a ticket to Brazil. But after the first game of this last stage, I don't know about that. It's going to be wide open and go down to the wire."
Although their last qualifying win on US soil came back in 1985, Costa Rica are undefeated in their last five matches against the USA.
Not unlike the USMNT, Segares says that Costa Rica are deep into a transitional World Cup cycle of their own after the likes of Walter Centeno, Rolando Fonseca and Freddy Fernández retired. Costa Rica manager Jose Luis Pinto called up a wide variety of players before settling on a stable group which earned a 2-2 come-from-behind tie against Panama in the opening Hexagonal matchday.
"A lot of people in Costa Rica have been skeptical with this team and it was great motivation to have a great result on the road against Panama," Segares said. "People are starting to believe a bit more."
This isn't your typical Costa Rica team that typically enjoyed possessing the ball and relying on the inspiration of a creative player or two like Centeno or Wilmer "Pato" López in the past. Now the central midfielders, Michael Barrantes and Ariel Rodríguez, are more defensive-minded as Costa Rica have evolved and added a new dimension to their game.
"This team could be a little more direct, especially with a target guy like [Álvaro] Saborío and guys like Cristian Bolaños with a lot of speed on the wings," Segares said. "I feel it's a little bit more European style."
And with more players based outside Costa Rica and a new style that may allow them to match up even better than they have against the USA, Segares is hopeful and will be in the minority pulling for Costa Rica at a local Chicago bar which will fill up with Fire fans rooting for the USA.
So does Segares wear a Fire shirt or a Costa Rica jersey for the event?
"Let's put it this way," Segares said. "I'll be wearing red."
Costa Rica Projected Starting XI (5-4-1): GK Keilor Navas — LB Bryan Oviedo, CB Roy Miller, CB Michael Umaña, CB Giancarlo González, RB Cristian Gamboa — LW Bryan Ruiz, CDM Michael Barrantes, CDM Ariel Rodríguez, RW Cristian Bolaños — FW Álvaro Saborío