Kendall Waston steps in to help lead Costa Rica to Gold Cup semifinal berth

PHILADELPHIA — As soon as the final whistle blew on Wednesday’s first CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal match at Lincoln Financial Field, Kendall Waston turned to the Costa Rica fans behind the goal and repeatedly pumped his arms in jubilation.

The Ticos are moving on, and the Vancouver Whitecaps defender is loving every minute of it.

“It feels good,” Waston said after Costa Rica’s 1-0 win over Panama. “It feels very good to make the semifinals with the national team. Now we’re ready for the next game and trying to get in the finals.”

Waston was called up to Costa Rica during the group stage as an injury replacement for Bryan Oviedo, but wasn’t eligible to suit up until the knockout round. The imposing 6-foot-5 center back fit in seamlessly on Wednesday, however, and he slowed down Panama’s attack all night while helping the Ticos earn their third shutout of the tournament.

“It’s not easy,” Waston said. “I would have loved to be here from the beginning, but it doesn’t matter what stage you get in. It’s an honor to be here and it’s a privilege.”

The Ticos showcased more of their MLS ties Wednesday with Portland Timbers midfielder David Guzman playing in the free kick that led to Anibal Godoy’s decisive own goal in the 77th minute. And Minnesota United’s Francisco Calvo played the full 90 alongside Waston on the back line, helping Costa Rica earn the clean sheet against a Panama side they know well.

The strong performance at the back saw Costa Rica head into their first Gold Cup semifinal berth since 2009, with just one goal conceded in four matches.

“I think it’s really exciting,” Calvo said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I think we deserve it a lot. Soccer is tough. Panama did well, too, but we deserved more to win."

Calvo added that the team’s primary goal was to get a clean sheet, which made Wednesday's triumph especially gratifying. And he knows that adding Waston into the mix was a big reason why they were able to accomplish it.

“I think Kendall is a really good defender,” Calvo said. “The last four years, he’s improved a lot. I think in MLS he’s improving a lot. I really like him as a person and a football player.”