EDMONTON, Alberta — As they continue to prepare for this summer’s Gold Cup, the Canadian national team returns to Edmonton for the first time since 2008 in a friendly vs. CONCACAF rivals Costa Rica (Tuesday, 8 pm ET, Sportsnet).
Playing in the cavernous Commonwealth Stadium on artificial turf, no one is expecting to be a massive turnout in terms of attendance, but the weather looks like it could be favorable to enjoy an international friendly.
But the weather will not be on any of the players minds. Canada will use this match to start the process of determining which young players might be ready for the Gold Cup.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica have a crucial month in World Cup qualifying coming up. Currently in second place in the Hex standings, the Ticos will host Honduras on June 7 before heading to Estadio Azteca to play Mexico on June 11. They finish off the three-match set at home to Panama on June 18.
Costa Rica are that rare Central American team against whom Canada have enjoyed some recent success. In the last three meetings between the two sides, the Canadians have a win and two draws and haven’t lost to the Ticos since a 1-0 game in Seattle at the 2005 Gold Cup.
The last meeting between the two sides ended in a 2-2 draw in Miami at the 2009 Gold Cup. And Canada won 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier in 1997, the only other time the two nations have squared off in Edmonton.
This is a very different team than the one that faced Costa Rica in Miami. Andre Hainault and Issey Nakajima-Farran are the only two players in the current squad who took part in that game. Other than veteran Julian de Guzman, much of the rest of the squad consists of players who are still on the fringes, looking to play their way into the Gold Cup squad, such as Toronto FC youngsters Doneil Henry and Kyle Bekker.
"It’s a terrific opportunity for some of these players," says Colin Miller, the FC Edmonton head coach who will man the sidelines for Canada on Tuesday night.
Basically, at this point, the Canadians are looking for an identity as they head into the summer. Problem is, they still don't have a fulltime coach. Miller would love to take the reins fulltime, and good result against what looks to be an experimental Costa Rican side would go a long way to making his case.
Can it be done? Maybe. But Canada have struggled for results in recent matches. They have four losses and a draw in their last five games (four of them friendlies), going back to the 8-1 drubbing they suffered in Honduras that finally dashed their World Cup dreams.
With the resumption of the Hex just around the corner, Costa Rica have opted not to risk injury to some of their bigger name players for this game, including Joel Campbell and Alvaro Saborio. As a result, it’s a similar sort of squad to the Canadians', one with little international experience. The most experienced player is former Chivas USA defender Michael Umaña, the only palyer with more than 17 caps.
Regardless, the Ticos have been in great form of late. Only one loss — the snow game against the United States — in 11 matches since last October, including winning the Copa Centroamericana using a less-than-full-force squad in January.
This version of the squad will be led by Columbus Crew forward Jairo Arrieta, who will look for his 10th cap and, most likely, Yendrick Ruiz, the brother of Fulham's Bryan Ruiz, who could make his international debut after winning the Verano title with Herediano and finishing second in the league in goals. Despite not having all their weapons, there is firepower available.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Canada – Julian de Guzman: The longtime international is likely going to be handed the armband as Canada’s captain and they’ll need him to play up to that standard. With a number of young players expected to be on the field, the 32-year-old will have to provide that stabilizing influence in the midfield and provide a reliable link between the defenders and the attackers.
Costa Rica – Jairo Arrieta (right): With the biggest names left off the roster for this friendly, the Crew forward has a chance to make his case not only for a spot in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, but also for the Gold Cup.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Haidar Al-Shaibani (Nimes Olympique/France), Milan Borjan (Sivasspor/Turkey), Simon Thomas (Vancouver Whitecaps FC).
DEFENDERS (5): Nik Ledgerwood (Hammarby/Sweden), Andre Hainault (Ross County FC/Scotland), Doneil Henry (Toronto FC), Ashton Morgan (Toronto FC), Adam Straith (FC Saarbrucken/Germany).
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC), Stefan Cebara (NK Celje/Slovenia), Julian de Guzman (SSV Jahn Regensburg/Germany), Issey Nakajima-Farran (Alki/Cyprus), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC), Pedro Pacheco (CD Santa Clara/Portugal), Samuel Piette (Fortuna Dusseldorf/Germany).
FORWARDS (4): Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Eintracht Braunschweig/Germany), Marcus Haber (Stevenage FC/England), Tosaint Ricketts (Sandnes Ulf/Norway), Daniel Haber (Maccabi Haifa/Israel).
COSTA RICA SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS (2): Patrick Pemberton (Alajualense/Costa Rica), Kevin Briceno (Club Sport Uruguay/Costa Rica).
DEFENDERS (6): Michale Umaña (Saprissa/Costa Rica), Pablo Herrera (Club Sport Uruguay/Costa Rica), Jhonny Acosta (Dorados/Mexico), Christopher Meneses (IFK Norrkoping), Jordan Smith (Saprissa/Costa Rica), Kendall Watson (Perez Zeledon/Costa Rica).
MIDFIELDERS (5): Allen Guevara (Alajualense/Costa Rica), Yeltsin Tejada (Saprissa/Costa Rica), Ariel Rodriguez (Alajualense/Costa Rica), Osvaldo Rodriguez (Santos de Guapiles/Costa Rica), Keilor Soto (Perez Zeledon/Costa Rica).
FORWARDS (3): Jairo Arrieta (Columbus Crew), Kenny Cunningham (The Strongest/Bolivia), Alejandro Aguilar (Carmelita/Costa Rica), Yendrick Ruiz (Herediano/Costa Rica).