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Costa Rica heads into must-win game against United States

June 6, 2016

Both Costa Rica and the United States enter Tuesday’s Group A Copa América match with their tournament fates on the line.

La Sele’s uninspiring performance in Saturday’s 0-0 tie against Paraguay has left the Ticos in a fragile spot, basically requiring a win against the U.S. in order to have any chance of advancing to quarterfinals. A loss Tuesday would all but eliminate Costa Rica, considering the team would then have play talented group leader Colombia, which beat the United States 2-0 to open tournament play.

Costa Rica’s chances against the U.S. took a hit when key defender Kendall Waston committed a silly foul in stoppage time against Paraguay, which resulted in a red card that suspended the burly center back for Tuesday’s game. In his place, the Ticos will likely go with Saprissa backer Francisco Calvo, although 33-year-old World Cup veteran Michael Umaña could also get the nod.

Besides missing a vital piece in the center of his five-man backline, coach Óscar Ramírez must also worry about creating some semblance of offense. Costa Rica’s forwards went unheard from against Paraguay, failing to string together consistent drives and applying no pressure on goal.

Kendall Waston red card
Alex Menendez/AFP

The continued inconsistency on the frontline is a worry not just for Costa Rica’s Copa América odds, but also for the future, in particular the upcoming World Cup and the CONCACAF qualifying rounds.

A matchup with a U.S. side that looked very average on the backend against Colombia may be just what Ramírez’s attack needs. And just as Costa Rica’s forwards looked overwhelmed in their opener, the U.S. midfield was similarly unspectacular on Friday.

U.S. captain Michael Bradley, who is now playing a more defensive midfield role, had a terrible turnover in the first half against Colombia that lead to a second goal for Los Cafeteros. Fellow midfielder Alejandro Bedoya also struggled to establish any rhythm, leaving the U.S. almost no chance of controlling pace.

Against the U.S. midfield, it will be crucial for Tico captain Bryan Ruíz and Celso Borges to control the middle and muster up more of a consistent attack.

Following a disappointing year in 2015, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is under an enormous amount of pressure to lead the tournament home team beyond group play. He’ll likely make lineup changes in his starting 11 against Costa Rica. Youngsters like 17-year-old forward Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe could see increased minutes after coming in as subs against Colombia.

For his part, Ramírez is unlikely to make any major changes going into Tuesday’s match. La Sele could, however, see Christian Bolaños in place for Yeltsin Tejeda at right wing. The 32-year-old Bolaños could give Costa Rica more of an edge on offense if he replaces the defensive-minded Tejeda.

Ramírez also has the option of replacing starting striker Marco Ureña, who vanished in the first game, with Álvaro Saborío, who is used to playing on U.S. soil and leads this group with 35 career goals.

Costa Rica and the U.S. will kick off at Chicago’s Soldier Field at 5 p.m. Costa Rica time on Tuesday. The Ticos are currently tied for second place in Group A with one point. The U.S. is in last place with zero points and a minus-two goal differential.

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