Gold Cup Semifinal: U.S. vs. Costa Rica

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By JACK BELL

Gold Cup logoThe United States national team and Costa Rica will see a lot of each other over the next six weeks — first in Saturday night’s semifinal in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Arlington, Tex., then, perhaps more critically, in a World Cup qualifier at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., on Sept. 1.

“Certainly they’re a good team,” U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said on Wednesday night after a 2-0 victory over El Salvador in the quarterfinals. “They beat the U.S. by four goals in November, right? Hopefully we can remember that.”

That loss would be hard to forget for any follower of U.S. soccer. The match in San Jose, Costa Rica, which ended in a 4-0 thumping, unleashed a wave of angst among fans and cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job. It ushered Arena back into the job and the national team has not lost (7-0-5) since the start of Arena’s second stint.

The two countries first met on the soccer field on Aug. 19, 1975, and have played 35 times since, with Costa Rica holding a slight 15-14-6 edge. The Ticos and Mexico are the only two CONCACAF nations with a winning record against the U.S. In the Gold Cup, however, the U.S. holds a 6-0-1 advantage since the tournament took its current form in 1991, with the American team winning, 2-0, in the 2002 Gold Cup final.

Costa Rica was one of the surprise teams at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, finishing first in a difficult first-round group that included Uruguay, Italy and England, ousting Greece in a shootout in the Round of 16 before falling in another shootout to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.

“I don’t know enough about them,” Arena said. “I’ll do a little work the next couple of day. They look to have pretty close to their full team here. They have some injuries, they’ve lost some players. They’re solid defensively.”

One of those injured players is New York City FC winger Rodney Wallace, another is forward Ariel Rodríguez.

After the Gold Cup — which with end for the U.S. either Saturday night at AT&T Stadium (10 p.m. Eastern; Fox Sports 1, UniMás and Univision Deportes) or in Wednesday’s final against either Mexico or Jamaica — Arena and the U.S. will face the Ticos again in an important World Cup qualifier. Costa Rica (3-2-1, 11 points) is in second place in the Hexagonal, the final round of regional qualifying, three points ahead of the U.S. (2-2-2, 8). After the Costa Rica qualifier, the final three qualifiers for the U.S. will be against the three bottom teams (Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago) in the group, so a victory would almost certainly mean the U.S. would advance to the next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In the group stage, Arena used 22 of the 23 players on the roster (only NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson did not see action). For the knockout stages, Arena took full advantage of the tournament’s odd rule that enables teams to add/subtract up to six players — Jesse Gonzalez, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Darlington Nagbe.

“One of the things we’ve benefited from in the tournament was that we have been able to look at a lot of players and see where they fit in in the big picture,” Arena said. “If there’s anything I get out of the Gold Cup it’s that. There are some questions looking at our overall roster. There are some players I haven’t seen before, so we’ve had our opportunity.”

He said he had been particularly impressed with the play of defender Eric Lichaj, who scored the opener against El Salvador on Wednesday night.

If Saturday’s match is tied after 90 minutes, there will not be 30 minutes of extra time. Instead, the match will go straight to penalty kicks. Extra time would be used in the final, should it be tied after 90 minutes.