Costa Rica came into the 2015 Gold Cup looking to make a statement. Having reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, this CONCACAF Gold Cup was supposed to be a chance to prove that Costa Rica was no longer the “best of the rest,” but that they belonged in the upper echelons of CONCACAF with Mexico and the United States. I wrote about these expectations in my Group B preview, which you can read to see how wrong I was (Gold Cup: Group B Preview). Rather than making a statement of progress, Costa Rica is struggling at the Gold Cup.
Based on those expectations, it’s probably fair to say that the Gold Cup so far has been pretty disappointing for the Ticos. In fact, it’s not far short of a disaster. Not only did Costa Rica fail to win a very winnable Group B, which would have seen them face Haiti in the quarterfinals before a likely matchup with the United States in the semi-finals, they were unlucky enough to have Mexico finish second in Group C, meaning they’ll face Mexico in the quarterfinals. If they manage to get past Mexico (which is a big IF because despite Mexico’s poor form, Costa Rica has looked just as bad if not worse), they face the winner of Panama and everyone’s favorite team right now, the in-form Trinidad & Tobago.
Not only did the Ticos end up with basically the toughest possible route to the Gold Cup Final, their play in the group stage, despite advancing, did nothing to suggest that they’ll be able to turn it on in the knockout rounds. Paulo Wanchope’s men started with a 2-2 draw against Jamaica in which despite leading 2-1 at the half, they were dominated for much of the game and couldn’t hold on to the win. They then scraped a 1-1 draw against what was supposed to be the group minnows, El Salvador before finishing out group play with an unimpressive 0-0 draw against Canada.
Heading into the quarterfinal, Wanchope, who could come under serious pressure if the Ticos don’t improve their play quickly, made one change to his roster, leaving defender Michael Umana, who has made just one substitute appearance so far, off the roster, and adding Vancouver Whitecaps CB Kendall Waston. The addition of Waston shouldn’t be surprising, as Wanchope felt the need to play Roy Miller, who typically plays LB, at CB twice in the group stage. Waston was a curious omission from the original roster, given his high level of play in MLS, and he’ll likely be counted on to be a difference maker for a backline that struggled at times in the group stage and faces their toughest test yet on Sunday against Mexico.
Waston may provide some stability to the backline, but it’s Costa Rica’s offense that needs to get going if the Ticos are going to get past Mexico on Sunday. Mexico’s backline has proved it can be beaten, as Trinidad & Tobago managed to get four past them in their 4-4 draw this week. Costa Rica’s attack, which includes the likes of Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges, and Alvaro Saborio, has scored just three goals in the Gold Cup so far, and has looked fairly inept for the most part.
Wanchope acknowledged his team’s need for improvement prior to their draw against Canada, saying:
I don’t have doubts about what we’re doing. I don’t doubt the form or the identity of play that we want, but we have to make some individual adjustments. In terms of style and form, we’re doing alright. But we still recognize that things have to improve.
Costa Rica will need to see great improvement if they’re going to beat Mexico, a win that would be the first victory of Wanchope’s tenure as national team manager and lift a great deal of pressure of his shoulders. Wanchope is 0-3-5 since being appointed manager following the departure of World Cup manager Jorge Luis Pinto, and seems to be struggling to adapt to the role of manager. Rather than picking up momentum from a successful World Cup last summer, his team seems to have lost all momentum and may be in danger of throwing away the gains made in that great World Cup performance.