Gold Cup semifinal loss to US has Costa Rica asking "What if?"

ARLINGTON, Texas – Things could have been different for Costa Rica in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Seeking a first ever Gold Cup title, the Ticos brought a loaded squad to the United States and were viewed as a pre-tournament favorite.

But injuries to key players like forward Joel Campbell, Minnesota United forward Johan Venegas and Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Christian Bolanos left Costa Rica head coach Oscar Ramirez lacking an attacking option he could turn to for a spark off the bench.

Now, once again, the Central Americans exit a Gold Cup empty-handed after a 2-0 semifinal loss to the US on Saturday night, extending Costa Rica’s Gold Cup final drought to 15 years.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the Ticos, who certainly had their fair share of chances on Saturday.

“Today we lacked finishing the clear chances that we had and created,” said midfielder Bryan Ruiz. “The US were better in the first 15 minutes, then it was back and forth, we then had a couple chances to go ahead so that played a big part. In these matches when you don’t take advantage of the chances that are created, it’ll be costly. The US took advantage with Clint [Dempsey’s] play for [Jozy] Altidore when they earned the 1-0 lead and that changed the game.”

Still, it’s hard for Costa Rica to not think what could have been in this Gold Cup had at least one of the aforementioned trio been available on Saturday night.

Could Campbell have finished Marco Urena’s chance in the first half instead of Tim Howard making a spectacular save? Would Venegas have taken better advantage of the US errors in the back?

It’s the type of answer that might not reveal itself until early September, when the two teams square off again in a crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifier for Russia 2018 at Red Bull Arena.

“I don’t know if we are in the final [if those players had stayed healthy],” said Minnesota defender Francisco Calvo. “All the games are different. It doesn’t matter if we have the players or not. I think if we have Joel, Bolanos or Venegas they could have helped us. It could have been a different story, but we have to keep going and in one month we have a different battle.”

Nevertheless, there were enough positives for Costa Rica to take away from the tournament.

“We’re disappointed because we wanted to get into the final, but I think we had a good tournament. We improved from the start. We started our prep with some players in preseason and the MLS players in midseason form, so I think we got better as the tournament progressed,” said Calvo.