The third game in the CONCACAF qualification group stage was for a third successive fixture going to involve Costa Rica. The Central American team had lost away to Guatemala in their opener, and then gained revenge on the same opposition here in San José two weeks ago. With The United States of America arriving in the Costa Rican capital, another result was going to matter in what was expected to be a tight group; you could ill afford to drop points from your home ties. For USA, this was their first game of eight in this series, and could they avoid defeat in their opening tie, they would have laid a solid foundation for progress through to their first World Cup participation in 40 years.
Team news Costa Rica
With information on unused substitutes in this section of the Italia ’90 qualification scarce, it is difficult to pinpoint the matchday squads. In comparison to Costa Rica’s previous qualifier, the 2-1 home win against Guatemala, nine from eleven starters then, two weeks earlier, were kicking this game off, too. The missing pair were left-sided defender Marvin Obando and technically gifted midfielder Óscar Ramírez. The two players making their entrance were defender-cum-midfielder Héctor Marchena and midfield man Carlos Hidalgo. It would seem that manager Marvin Rodríguez would wish to pack the midfield in order to stop the Americans from playing.
Team news USA
With this being USA’s first match since their exit from the Olympics in September the previous year, it would have been difficult to anticipate beforehand just how head coach Lothar Osiander would want his team to portray itself. The majority of the players taking to the pitch here in San José were known from the Olympic tournament, although there were also a couple of new faces brought in since then. The squad picked, or at least the 13 players whom we have knowledge of would feature, contained a single player, Jim Gabarra, aged 30, while the rest of them were from 21 to 26. So it was a very young team which took to the pitch in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica (4-5-1)
|1 Luis Gabelo Conejo||30||Cartaginés|
|2 Vladimir Quesada||22||Saprissa|
|3 Róger Flores (c)||32||Saprissa|
|4 Mauricio Montero||26||Alajuelense|
|6 Carlos Hidalgo||27||Saprissa|
|8 Germán Chavarría||31||Herediano|
|9 Gilberto Rhoden||?|
|11 Evaristo Coronado||, sub||29||Saprissa|
|14 Juan Cayasso||sub||28||Saprissa|
|15 Enrique Díaz||31||Saprissa|
|19 Héctor Marchena||25||Cartaginés|
|10 Enrique Rivers||on||29||Herediano|
|x Leoni Flores||on||25||Saprissa|
|x Marvin Obando||29||Herediano|
|18 Jeff Duback||25||San Diego Nomads|
|2 Steve Trittschuh||23||Tampa Bay Rowdies|
|3 Bruce Murray||23||Washington Stars|
|4 Marcelo Balboa||21||San Diego Nomads|
|5 Mike Windischmann (c)||23||Albany Capitals|
|6 John Harkes||22||Albany Capitals|
|7 Tab Ramos||, sub||22||Miami Sharks|
|8 Brian Bliss||23||Boston Bolts|
|9 Brent Goulet||sub||24||Seattle Storm|
|10 Peter Vermes||22||Volendam|
|14 John Stollmeyer||26||Arizona Condors|
|17 Jim Gabarra||on||30||Los Angeles Heat|
|x Frank Klopas||on||23||AEK Athens|
Admittedly, we do only possess a cut version of approximately 26 minutes of action from this game. This is not a whole lot to base a verdict on, although it is sufficient material for us to be able to determine player positions at least.
The first half contains about 14 minutes of footage, and with Costa Rica seemingly coming forward to a greater level than the visitors in the initial phases of the game, one does get the impression that they’re about to boss the proceedings.
Earlier viewings of this Costa Rica team has told tales of a relatively secure team in possession, although they do seem somewhat lightweight coming forward. This is a factor which to an extent gets underlined from watching these clips, although it should be said that they’re not entirely poor coming forward. There is movement off the ball, and the player in midfield possession does have a few options ahead of him.
Right-back Quesada is far from unwilling to come forward along his flank, and right-sided midfielder Cayasso will step inside in order to accommodate his team mate for his forward runs. Across from Quesada there is Díaz on the opposite full-back. He’s a tall, lanky player well capable of playing in a more advanced wide left role, though with no Obando anywhere to be seen, the 30 year old has had to slot in as a defender. He doesn’t mind contributing by coming forward, although with Rhoden originally operating as what appears to be a wide left midfield option, Díaz isn’t seen as freely moving forward as his full-back compatriot.
At the heart of defence is captain Flores and the curly-haired Montero, and acting as a shield right in front of them is the sturdy Marchena. The latter adds some bite to their rear midfield, and he will leave more attacking responsibility to the remaining members of their five man strong midfield unit. Chavarría, the little terrier, thrives in possession, and usually plays it relatively simple, while Hidalgo is rarely afraid to make forward runs, and can be seen finding the left hand channel on more than one occasion. He had featured in their previous match, the 2-1 home win over Guatemala, and would appear to bring something else to the table than what they’ve previously had. Cayasso, seen as the most right-sided player in the Costa Rican midfield, arrives in crossing positions on a couple of first half occasions, although he is not successful in picking out a team member.
Up top, the hard-working Coronado can be seen chasing and harrying the US players when the visitors attempt to build from the back. He does receive some support through the centre from Rhoden, who is moving in field from his wide left position. The perfect example of how Rhoden is supposed to act occurs just shy of the quarter of an hour mark, as US defender Trittschuh fails to clear away to safety inside his area, and when he slips and presents Coronado with the ball from Díaz’ lofty left wing cross, the striker shoots low on the turn, only for Rhoden to nip in behind the unsuspecting Balboa’s back and flick the ball into the back of the net with his left foot. He is probably just onside as he connects. It is such a crucial goal for a 1-0 home lead.
The American team
Vanole is between the sticks for the visitors, and he’s a broad-chested young man who appears to be unafraid. However, he has shown glimpses of some dodgy aerial work, so his best feature may be his shot-stopping.
The four men immediately ahead of him are, right to left: Marcelo Balboa, captain Mike Windischmann, light-haired centre-half Steve Trittschuh, and the versatile Brian Bliss at left-back. Windischmann is without particular marking responsibility, and whenever they wish to be direct, he is the one who feeds it towards the Costa Rican penalty area from his left boot. He’s got quite a physical approach, something which Hidalgo finds out to a cost early in the game as the home midfielder has the stuffing knocked out of him in a challenge.
Balboa seems to first and foremost focus on defensive duties, and crossing the halfway line is something which he only does reluctantly. The same applies for Trittschuh, who pays attention to Costa Rica striker Coronado. However, Trittschuh does come forward for set-pieces, and with his aerial strength he is someone whom they will look to for getting on the end of balls into the area. He’d been unfortunate in slipping just prior to the goal, but had had a chance to redeem himself at the other end, although a low effort went via a home defender and wide.
Bliss along the left is more prone to moving into attacking territory, possibly because he is far from unfamiliar with a midfield role. He has the agile Murray ahead of him along the left hand side, and though the latter does tend to move in field, exposing an avenue for Bliss to attack, there doesn’t always seem to be a lot of wholeheartedness about the Americans’ approach along the left. They tend to make use of little Tab Ramos, whose close control often enables him to step away from an opponent and surge forward on the ball. He is up against an uncompromising adversary in Marchena, though.
Sitting at the deep end of the United States’ midfield is their oldest starter: 26 year old John Stollmeyer. He seems most adept with his left foot, and in the wake of the hosts’ goal, he is set up for an effort from 30 yards out which only clears Conejo’s bar by a feet or so. Around him, or indeed to his right, is John Harkes, who seems to be going through some running off the ball. Not to any great success in the first half, though.
Brent Goulet, who had briefly had a spell in the second tier of English football with AFC Bournemouth in the past, and Peter Vermes work through the centre, although they’re quite effectively dealt with so far by the Ticos defence, where centre-backs Flores and Montero are taking no prisoners. Goulet does have a header after a very cleverly worked free-kick routine, where Windischmann, rather than hit it into the area first time, played it low into the left hand channel for Murray to cross, catching the home side on the back foot. The striker’s header ultimately lacks power, and is a straight-forward claim for the confident goalkeeper.
With so little time devoted to highlights, it is impossible to say for sure, but what is shown following the Costa Rican goal is predominantly the Americans pushing for a goal to claw themselves back on equal terms. That well-worked free-kick routine which ended in Goulet’s header apart, they created preciously little as far as goal threat was concerned. A lot of their attacks were Windischmann or Stollmeyer hoisting the ball forward, and the Costa Rican central defence, with the aid of holding midfield man Marchena, rarely had any trouble in dealing with these tactics.
Quesada had looked inspired bombing forward from his full-back position; Cayasso had looked elegant and composed in possession. Marchena was clearly a big player in that defensive midfield role, whereas Hidalgo’s runs from the deep relieved some of the pressure heaped on to them by the visitors. For the USA team, the players to come out of the first half highlights reel the most visually beneficial, were probably Stollmeyer and Murray.
Half time and 1-0 to the hosts.
The footage which are available to us from the final 45 minutes contain little in terms of goalmouth excitement. There does seem to be an attempt at a push for the equalizing goal by the visitors in the initial phase of the second half, although it rarely leads to much. They seem bent on putting balls into the area, although the American forwards are struggling to make much of an impact aerially against Flores, Montero and Marchena, with the latter in particular leaving a very solid impression through these clips.
The Costa Rican players begin time-wasting tactics, as several players go to ground relatively easily, although there’s also legitimate claims that some of the Americans are overly physical on set-piece situations. On one such occasion, a deep left wing corner from Ramos, Trittschuh certainly goes in very hard against goalkeeper Conejo, who does well to claim the ball ahead of the visiting central defender, who follows through and appears to strike the ‘keeper in the back of the head. At this point, the Costa Rican captain, Flores, is already receiving treatment on the sidelines for something which had looked more innocuous. They will both be fit to resume play, though. The same applies for right-back Quesada a bit later.
There are two yellow cards issued during the course of the final 45, with both Ramos for the visitors and Coronado for the hosts being cautioned by the Mexican official. The Costa Rica striker gets his for a push against an American defender, whilst Ramos had displayed some frustration for not being awarded a free-kick in a previous situation as he went in hard and late on full-back Quesada to earn his warning.
The hosts’ attacks appear to be few and far between, although towards the end USA seem to have given up hope of arriving at an equalizer. This allows the home side more time and space in possession, something which Marchena makes use of as he drives forward on the ball and tests Duback with a low, left-footed drive from just outside the area. The goalkeeper is alert low by his left hand post to push it away for a right wing Costa Rica corner.
Both sides are making use of their allowed quota of two substitutes, with Cayasso and Coronado leaving the pitch to be replaced by Rivers and (Leoni) Flores respectively, whilst the American coach opts to withdraw Ramos and Goulet in place of Klopas and Gabarra.
Conceding a free-kick deep inside Costa Rican territory is all the US can muster in additional time, and the referee can please the home players and their boisterous supporters alike by signalling for full time. Two hugely important points in the sack for the hosts, who win at home for the second game running. The visitors are off to a disappointing start, although this was probably their most difficult among the eight group stage fixtures.
A massive two points for Costa Rica, who win for the second time in three fixtures, and at the same time make sure that what is expected to be one of their major rivals for qualification leave empty-handed.
The home side look well organized at the back; they do not concede opportunities in open play. The Americans push on at set-pieces, and look to make use of what they believe is a superior level of aerial play, where in particular centre-back Trittschuh is their destination. Conejo saves comfortably after a cleverly worked free-kick from which Goulet headed on target.
Costa Rica had struck the only goal before the quarter of an hour mark, when Rhoden, who had come into the team for the occasion, had connected with Coronado’s turn and shot following Trittschuh’s unfortunate slip following Díaz’ lofty cross from the left. While there were suspicions of offside, the visitors didn’t protest much.
The home side let the Americans have plenty of possession as they then sat back and hoped to catch the away team on the break. These tactics worked them a treat, as they just sucked up anything which USA had to throw at them, which in all honesty wasn’t all that much. The lack of international experience probably came back to haunt the US team. Costa Rica showed some cynicism towards the latter stages, and they were rewarded with a win which could prove to be priceless.