Costa Rica execute plan perfectly, stifling Bradley, Pulisic in win over US

HARRISON, N.J. – The US national team knew what kind of game plan Costa Rica would use against them on Friday night, and still could not stop Los Ticos from executing it to near-perfection.

Marco Ureña was the key figure in the Ticosstunning 2-0 victory in their World Cup qualifier, but it was the overall performance from the Costa Ricans that left the North Americans frustrated and empty-handed.

“We did tremendous amount of planning for this game,” said Costa Rica midfielder Bryan Ruiz when asked what was the key in shutting out the US. “The captains and coaching staff got together on several occasions during the week to watch certain situations and videos. We even changed some tactics that the coaching staff thought would help us feel more comfortable.

“It was a lot of work, a lot of studying, but all the players were able to do it on the field.”

As is usually the case, Costa Rica’s plan centered around keeping numbers behind the ball and trying to hit on the counter. Los Ticos’ ability to stay organized made it difficult for the US to find space down the middle, and that development was only magnified after the Americans gave up the opener in the 30th minute.

“Their game flows through [Michael] Bradley, and we knew if we focused on [him and Christian Pulisic] they wouldn’t have many clear-cut opportunities,” Costa Rica and Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston told MLSsoccer.com. “We tried to force them down the wings, tried to limit crosses, and keep them away from our goal. Obviously they have players with lots of quality and were eventually going have chances to take shots, but we also have our great goalkeeper [Keylor Navas].

“Our game plan worked today thanks to all the studying our technical staff did.”

What also helped the visitors’ efforts was their support in the stands. While the US was well represented in the sell-out crowd of 26,500, there were plenty of Costa Ricans rooting for their side at Red Bull Arena.

“We felt very, very comfortable today,” said Ruiz. “This stadium also fits us well. We also beat the US here in a friendly [in 2015]. This game showed us that the stadium fits us well.”

With the win, Costa Rica now have one foot in the door for next summer’s World Cup. They currently have 14 points, and can officially clinch their berth for Russia 2018 by beating Mexico at home on Tuesday.

“I don’t like to say we’re the biggest team in the region. But we are on par with the US and Mexico because you can notice the respect now in every game you play against them,” said Ticos and Whitecaps midfielder Christian Bolaños. “There’s not much difference between us all any more.  We are happy to have accomplished that, but we can’t get sidetracked. We have to keep going, because we are very close.

“Today, we won in the US for the first time in more than 30 years. That’s a great feeling. We are very happy. Now we have to rest up and see if we can punch our ticket against Mexico.”

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.