CARSON, Calif. — Time for class. Friday night’s friendly between the United States and Costa Rica at the Home Depot Center (11 pm ET, ESPN2, Galavisión) will provide the next lesson in the continuing education of US national team fans about the ways of Jurgen Klinsmann. Whether anything will be learned, however, remains to be seen.
They will face a Costa Rica side in flux. Following last month’s resignation of manager Ricardo La Volpe, the Ticos are in a transition process, having come to a verbal agreement with Colombian manager Jorge Luis Pinto, who will reportedly be officially named head coach next week. In the meantime, interim manager Ronald González will be on the bench.
The US and Costa Rica have not met since a 2010 World Cup qualifier in October 2009 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. In that game, which finished 2-2, the US’ Jonathan Bornstein scored a 94th-minute equalizer that, for all intents and purposes, knocked Costa Rica out of the World Cup and sent Honduras through.
Will there be bad blood left over two years later? Probabaly not. The squads are very different, including the absence of all the goalscorers — Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz; the US’ Bornstein and Michael Bradley — on that day two years ago. Plus, there is nothing at stake, per se.
But considering the many great clashes between the two over the past few years, the evenness of the all-time series, and the fact that players on both sides are looking to impress new managers, Friday’s friendly could prove anything but.
HEAD TO HEAD
All-time: USA: 11 wins… Costa Rica: 11 wins… 6 draws
In the United States: USA: 11 wins… Costa Rica: 3 wins… 4 draws
After last month’s 1-1 draw with Mexico, Klinsmann could barely contain his pleasure with his side’s comeback spirit and with the joy he felt on the sideline in his debut.
“It is something special,” he said. “I’ve lived in this country for 13 years. It was a special moment before the game, listening to the anthem and feeling the energy in the stadium and feeling the energy from the players. Unfortunately, I’m too old to play, so the next best thing is coaching.”
Of course, his every word and decision is parsed and analyzed by soccer pundits everywhere in hopes of understanding how he plans to take the USMNT to the next level. But they have learned precious details of how he will execute the sunny vision.
Friday’s match probably won’t change that. The roster, by his own admission, is just the next point on the learning curve.
He purposefully left off several players in unsettled club situations, including Chievo’s Bradley, Schalke’s Jermaine Jones, and Fulham’s Clint Dempsey (the latter will join the team for next Tuesday’s friendly in Belgium).
He also called up a handful of players left off the Mexico roster, in particular AZ’s Jozy Altidore and Sporting KC’s Teal Bunbury, who will compete with New York’s Juan Agudelo and LA mainstay Landon Donovan for playing time. They should, together, provide ample firepower and energy up top.
The midfield is equally explosive, with FC Dallas’ Brek Shea and Pachuca’s José Francisco Torres in position to truly make their international bones. Shea is in the midst of an MVP season for FCD, while Torres is a Klinsmann favorite for his technical skills in tight spaces and his ability to “resolve situations.” Both showed well against Mexico. Can they show better this time around, attacking a relatively young and inexperienced Ticos defense?
Injuries and other factors have forced adjustments in the defense. Holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman begged out to stay with his club, who play on Saturday; this leaves an opportunity for Colorado’s Jeff Larentowicz to enter the conversation to play the stay-at-home holding midfielder that Klinsmann seems to prefer.
Also, defenders Heath Pearce and Zach Loyd picked up recent knocks, replaced by Birmingham City’s Jonathan Spector (Hannover’s Steve Cherundolo will join up in Belgium). Timmy Chandler is also back. But the most important defender on the night might be Clarence Goodson, who was slated to start against Mexico before an injury snagged him. His size and smarts will be vital to deal with Costa Rica’s Álvaro Saborío, who is rounding into form for Real Salt Lake.
In goal, Tim Howard is expected to carry the load, as usual, despite Everton’s poor start to the EPL season. However, DC’s young Bill Hamid is back for another look with the USMNT, and this time, he should get some time on the field.
“We will continue to get to know the players and gather some valuable information during our 10 days together,” Klinsmann said this week. “Hopefully we can continue where we left off from the game against Mexico.”
After missing out on the World Cup and struggling in this summer’s Gold Cup, Costa Rica’s entire program is in transition, something reflected by the roster called up by González. Thirteen of the 23 players are 24 or younger, and 13 have 10 or fewer caps.
The most experienced player is RSL’s Saborío, who has made 54 appearances for his nation and scored 23 goals. He will be the focal point of the attack in the absence of Bryan Ruiz, the prolific striker who just completed a move from PSV to Fulham, and young phenom Joel Campbell, who has just joined Lorient on loan from Arsenal.
The other exciting prospects who could step in are Saprissa’s Josué Martínez, who has notched two goals in 9 caps, and Alajuelense’s José Salvatierra, a 21-year-old midfielder who started last month’s friendly with Ecuador.
The defense could have a heavy MLS feel. Chivas USA’s Michael Umaña, the second-most capped player in the squad, should anchor the backline while and New York’s Roy Miller will roam the left side. Portland’s Rodney Wallace, still uncapped, could make his debut and would provide an attacking thrust on the right side.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA: Brek Shea, midfielder. The Dallas star was the spark for the US against Mexico, serving the cross to Robbie Rogers for the equalizer. Klinsmann has called him an “old-time winger,” but the time is nigh for the 22-year-old to become a dominant force at the international level.
Costa Rica: Rodney Wallace, defender. The Portland Timbers defender is uncapped by the Ticos, but has become an important, versatile player for John Spencer’s side. The 23-year-old has speed and good crossing ability, which could cause problems if he’s given space on the right flank.