HARTFORD, Conn. – Opposites clash on Tuesday night at Rentschler Field as CONCACAF’s hottest goalscorer and its stingiest defense lock horns in a fitting end to the Gold Cup group stage.
Chris Wondolowski’s tournament haul sits at a tournament-leading five goals after just two games – already a US national team record for the tournament – while Costa Rica have accumulated 704 scoreless minutes of work since conceding a snow-logged goal to the US in March’s World Cup qualifier, better known as the SnowClasico.
And while the Ticos must defeat the US to win Group C because of a sizeable gap in goal differential, Wondolowski knows full well his three-game scoring streak could be in danger against a backline that’s had no problem choking the life out of CONCACAF attacks for the past four months.
“I think it’s a very difficult task. Costa Rica stays very compact. Their back four is very organized,” he said. “But I believe that we have a lot of talent going forward, especially when we connect our passes, and the movement off the ball is something very crucial for us. When we are able to connect those passes and really play together as a team, I think we’re able to create opportunities. The more opportunities we get, we tend to finish them.”
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann echoed the thoughts of his on-form striker, who appears to be in line for the start at center forward, praising the Costa Ricans recent performances but emphasizing this US team is still gelling after racking up 16 goals in their past three matches.
Still, the expectation is that this match will be much tighter than the 6-1 and 4-1 thrashings that the US handed Belize and Cuba to begin the tournament. Costa Rica may not have blown the doors off either of those overmatched sides, but they’re also not likely to pack it in defensively, something the US have yet to see from an opponent in this Gold Cup.
“I think it will be tight,” midfielder Stuart Holden said, “but I think it will be more open than some of the games we’ve had because, for example, Cuba kind of parked it in their half and were content to hit us on the break whereas I think Costa Rica will try to come at us a little bit. We might see a good game of soccer.”
Truthfully, that would probably suit the US, which seems to have fostered an attack full of panache (and production) since gathering to prepare for the tournament.
And Costa Rica’s backline will have to especially focus on keeping Wondolowski from finding the sliver of space he needs to convert. Guatemala, Belize and Cuba failed to keep him off the score sheet, and if Wondolowski can break free again, there will be at least one reward waiting for him at the next team meal from a generous teammate.
“If Wondo can score two or three goals again,” midfielder Mix Diskerud said. “I’ll give him my ice cream for dessert.”