The U.S. Men’s National Team faces arguably its toughest opponent left in the Hex as Costa Rica makes its way north.
Friday’s match at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey sets up a rematch with revenge and booking a World Cup ticket on the mind for the U.S., and earning a triumphant sweep over the USMNT on the other side.
[ READ: USMNT vs. Costa Rica Preview ]
Following the Gold Cup, this is the first time Bruce Arena has had his full selection of players available, and even with a pair of injuries on the backline, the veteran coach has most of the USMNT’s top players available. At the same time, even with Joel Campbell missing from action, Costa Rica brings one of its strongest squads, setting up a great battle in the shadows of New York City.
Here’s a look at three key battles on the field to keep an eye on in tonight’s USMNT vs. Costa Rica match:
Darlington Nagbe vs. Celso Borges
One of the players to have taken a step forward under Bruce Arena is Darlington Nagbe.
The Portland Timbers midfielder started the first three World Cup qualifiers this year as well as three matches in the Gold Cup and he’s been a creative force in midfield, helping set up the outside backs to provide crosses or playing balls into space for forwards to run on to.
He’ll certainly be a target of Costa Rica’s central midfield, including its engine Celso Borges, a box-to-box midfielder who plays through the middle. Borges will be looking to impose himself on Nagbe and cut down Nagbe’s time on the ball. It will be up to Nagbe to keep the ball moving quickly when he has it, and not get caught dribbling through the heart of the field too often.
Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream look most likely to start on Friday, and they’ll likely face one of CONCACAF’s best duos up top in Bryan Ruiz and Marco Ureña.
Ruiz and Ureña are a tandem of finesse and power, with Ureña imposing his physicality on defenders and Ruiz playing off his shoulder, looking to find the space between the back line and midfielders or making late darting runs into the box.
It will be up to Cameron and Ream, not the fleetest of feet but strong in the air, to hold off Costa Rica’s attack.
Bobby Wood vs. Giancarlo Gonzalez/Kendall Waston
Bobby Wood’s evolution as a striker has seen his role change from a target man to more of a forward who runs in the channels between the defenders.
But he’ll have a tough test ahead of him with towering and powerful centerbacks Giancarlo Gonzalez and Kendall Waston likely to play together in the backline. While Wood will be able to use his pace to get away from Waston, Gonzalez has excellent closing speed and both are strong tacklers.
Wood will have to work well with Jozy Altidore and time his runs to get a foot of space past Waston and Gonzalez, otherwise it may be tough going for the U.S. in the box.