Will Costa Rica try to exploit a vulnerable U.S. back line?

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Opposition styles are fairly predictable when small nations come visiting the United States for World Cup qualifiers.

Unless we’re talking about Mexico, the smaller nations of Central America and the Caribbean typically fill the field with clogging elements. They attack cautiously, content to sit back absorb more than their fair share.

It the smart way to approach things. They nominally “concede” things on the road against Mexico and the United States, then look to find their points at home or on the road against other light and middleweights. When they visit the big bullies of the block, it’s more about hoping to pick off a draw or maybe even trace the occasional serendipitous path to win. (The United States has not lost a home qualifier since 2001, so it doesn’t happen often.)

But will things look differently Friday at DSG Park outside Denver?

Considering the U.S. injuries and a back line that is likely to be some highly inexperienced patchwork job, will the Costa Ricans take things to the United States.

The Ticos certainly have enough talent to expose a vulnerable back line. Columbus striker Jairo Arrieta has been in MLS less than a full season, but his strike rate in that time (10 goals in 21 games) has been impressive. At roughly a goal every two matches (historically a worthy target for strikers) it’s about the same as U.S. man Eddie Johnson, who has 15 goals in 30 games over the last two MLS seasons.

Then there’s Alvaro Saborio, among Major League Soccer’s top scorers over the last four years. (More on that later at ProSoccerTalk.) With all that, the Ticos’ top attacker is Fulham man Bryan Ruiz (pictured here with Costa Rica). So the Costa Rican front line cupboard is full.

This affects how the United States prepares. Because that back line will need plenty of protection, especially if Costa Rica gets aggressive and looks to exploit a vulnerable host. Does the United States go without a true holding midfielder? (With Danny Williams out due to stomach flu, Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman are the options.)

Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones could play as two-way men in the center (without a midfield screener, that is, rotating as the holding man). But one moment of inattention could undo the whole qualifying effort, and even Jurgen Klinsmann has conceded that “who goes, who stays” communication between Bradley and Jones has not always been tippy-top when they man the middle together.

And what about Eddie Johnson along the left, where he’s been for the last couple of U.S. qualifiers? Whoever ends up at left back will presumably require more protection than Johnson, a natural striker, can offer.

Best guess is that Klinsmann will use Edu in a holding role, then station Jones and Bradley right and left, tucked inside in a diamond midfield, with Brek Shea or Johnson slightly higher up the field.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.