ARLINGTON, Tex. – There’s no doubt that Bruce Arena’s impact with the US national team in his return as head coach has gotten the attention of opponents around CONCACAF.
Oscar Ramirez’s Costa Rica was the team that put the final nail in the Jurgen Klinsmann coffin, with a 4-0 win last November in World Cup qualifying, dropping the US to last place in the Hexagonal with zero points after two games.
Now ahead of Costa Rica’s Gold Cup semifinal date with an Arena-led US on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium (10 pm ET | FS1, Univision), the Ticos sees a vastly different team than the one that was trounced last fall in Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional.
“Their players feel happier. With Klinsmann there was a certain tension, perhaps because several had problems with him,” said Ramirez in Friday’s pre-match press conference. “But now you can tell there is a happier environment, an environment in which the players apply themselves and play with more freedom. Bruce has brought that calmness in the Hexagonal and now they are in this Gold Cup semifinal, so I think Bruce has restored their level.”
Costa Rica’s lopsided win last November still remains fresh in the minds of many, however the Ticos were on the other side of the same scoreline in last summer’s Copa America Centenario.
While not alluding to it directly, it is evident that Ramirez learned his lesson from the Americans’ 4-0 win in Chicago when Costa Rica's lack of a defensive midfield was eaten up by the US counterattack.
“I think the US is a team that is very strong in the back. They can recover in the defensive zone when they have problems and they are also very good in transition. They have players who can make a difference in transition from the defensive third into attack and that is something to be careful with, in addition to their individual qualities in attack,” said Ramirez.
Nevertheless, the defensive lapses committed by the US during the Gold Cup will have surely gotten the attention of Ramirez, who is keen to once again punish an error-prone performance.
“The US has some shortcomings like all teams and we’ve talked to the team about how to take advantage of them. This is the third time that I have faced them, the first with Bruce, but I think we have identified some of their tendencies. Hopefully we can keep the ball more and be better in possession against them and not let our guard down, because they are a team that come forward and surprise you. I think it’ll be a chess match and we intend to get the win,” said Ramirez.