USWNT approaching Olympic tuneup against Costa Rica

IMAGE, MLSSOCCER.COM

by TOM SLATER

The roster speculation is over. Their first game of the Rio Summer Olympics is two weeks away. All that stands between the United States Women’s National Team and its Aug. 3 opener versus New Zealand is the final sendoff match against Costa Rica.

That will happen Friday night in Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park (9 p.m. EST, ESPN).

With all the roster controversy behind her, coach Jill Ellis will look to fine tune her lineup and erase any question that she will put out the strongest team possible in Brazil.

Costa Rica won’t be unfamiliar to the American team. The United States has faced Costa Rica more times than any other CONCACAF foe besides Canada and Mexico. The United States SA is 13-0-0 all-time against Costa Rica. The two teams met in February as part of Olympic Qualifying and the United States handled Costa Rica, 5-0. The United States scored just 12 seconds into the match and was in control from the start. The United States and Costa Rica also played twice in the post-World Cup Victory Tour, beating them in 8-0 in Pittsburgh and 7-2 in Chattanooga in August. The goals scored by Costa Rica in the latter game were the first ones Costa Rica had scored against the United States.

Costa Rica finished second in CONCACAF the United States in 2014, allowing them to qualify for the 2015 World Cup finals in Canada. Costa Rica surprised everyone by drawing Spain and South Korea. Las Ticas finally lost to Brazil and did not advance.

They hope to build on that performance with a young squad. One player watch is Raquel Rodriguez, who made the summer and fall her own at college and country. She is 22 years old with 25 national team goals – which makes her the highest scoring player in the country’s history.

The second overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) college draft, Rodriguez is a stalwart in the midfield with Sky Blue FC.

There’s no reason to expect anything different from earlier matches between the two, but here are three story lines to keep an eye on:

  • The walking wounded: Carli Lloyd played a half against whomever and declared herself fit. Megan Rapinoe was supposedly ok but pulled a calf muscle taking corner kicks in training. Morgan Brian had a nagging injury, too. The match against Costa Rica will give them all a chance — if they are healthy — to take a “test run” in an environment where there is little pressure. In addition, they can get some last minute chemistry down with the team. Don’t look for them to go a full 90 but they should get significant time. It will be especially interesting to see how Rapinoe does as she has yet to be on the field with another team since the fall.
  • The midfield conundrum: This is probably the biggest question of who plays and where. Brian, if healthy, seems to be a lock as the holding midfielder. Lloyd, who seems healthy, will be tucked in behind Alex Morgan. The other spots look to be a battle between Allie Long and Lindsey Horan.  Long has gotten some long looks from Ellis lately but Horan also played well. Whether it’s a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, Ellis has to figure out who is going to be the engine.
  • Beyond Hope: There may be nothing as lonely than being Hope Solo’s backup. Solo has seen the overwhelmingly majority of the minutes in goal in 2016, playing in all but two matches. Alyssa Naeher is the backup and has a total of five caps — two this year against Puerto Rico in February and Colombia in April. All the rest has been Solo. Many have questioned what happens if Solo gets injured and fans keep calling for Naeher to get some experience before the Olympics. There might not be a better time to at least get Solo’s understudy some time on the pitch in back of the Americans defense.

The United State will open Group G play on Aug. 3 – two days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony – against New Zealand. The USA also play France on August 6 and Colombia on Aug. 9.


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