A hot night in Frisco, Texas saw Costa Rica deal with a pesky but wasteful Bermuda side and secure passage to the Gold Cup knockout stage with a 2-1 win on goals bracketing halftime. Jerseys were soaked through with sweat after just 20 minutes, and the minnows were up to the task but couldn’t finish off their chances and were punished on the other end.
Costa Rica remained in the majority of possession throughout but Bermunda continued to disrupt their early flow, holding the favorites to just one total shot through the first 25 minutes. Bermuda, meanwhile, had a few great opportunities in the opening minutes. They had an early chance on the counter just two minutes in, but Nahki Wells scuffed his shot wide after the Costa Rica defense somehow whiffed on stopping the through ball. Reggie Lambe found himself on the doorstep in the 19th minute after a Wells shot from outside the top of the box was blocked right to Lambe’s feet, but he took too long to get a shot off and put it into Leonel Moreira’s breadbasket.
Costa Rica had its first chance in the 27th minute as Allan Cruz rose high and got his head to an Elias Aguilar cross from deep in the corner, but the effort was right at Bermuda shot-stopper Dale Eve. Bermuda was lucky to keep 11 players on the pitch on the half-hour mark after an ugly tackle by Jaylon Bather who went studs-up high onto the lower leg of Bryan Oviedo. They broke through on a subsequent corner as Mayron George headed home at the back post.
Oscar Duarte came close to a second with another header off a corner 10 minutes later, but he put it just over the bar. Eve was required again just before halftime as he flew through the air to keep out a Celso Borges free-kick effort destined for the top corner. After the break, Costa Rica was bright and found a second as Elias Aguilar bagged his second of the tournament on a simple shot from left side of the box.
Bermuda woke up after the second Costa Rica goal, and a Donte Brangman scorcher from distance forced a save of Moreira on 57 minutes. On the ensuing corner, Borges tripped Jalen Harvey and a penalty was awarded, which Wells blasted down the middle to get Bermuda on the board. Zeiko Lewis had a glorious opportunity to draw level as Lambe fed him through on goal but he couldn’t settle properly and the chance disappeared.
Costa Rica controlled the ball as the game wound down and while Bermuda tested them in spells, they never truly had what it took to equalize. They came closest in the 89th minute on a turn-and-shoot from Wells but he put it wide right. Somehow, Costa Rica failed to find a third with the final kick of the game as George saw his breakaway shot saved by Eve and his follow-up on the doorstep blasted off the underside of the crossbar.
The win for Costa Rica secures a spot in the knockout round, while Bermuda is officially eliminated with no points from their first two games. Nicaragua is also eliminated with the result, and Costa Rica will take on Haiti to determine the group winner in the final match of Group B play on Monday.
In the first-ever Gold Cup game played on soil outside the United States, Mexico or Canada, Costa Rica made the most of a newfound home-field advantage, to the tune of a 4-0 victory over Nicaragua as the two sides began Group B play.
Bryan Oviedo put the home side on the board with what turned out to be the winner after just seven minutes, but Celso Borges’ thunderous strike stole the headlines, for very obvious reasons.
Haiti fell 1-0 behind, then erased that deficit and went 2-1 ahead of, Bermuda all in the space of 21 minutes. Dante Leverock scored Bermuda’s first-ever Gold Cup in the second minute of first-half stoppage time, soaring above the crowd and heading home from a corner kick.
Set pieces giveth, and set pieces taketh. Haiti drew level nine minutes into the second half, courtesy of Frantzdy Pierrot’s header from a dangerous free kick. Pierrot poked home a wide open rebound to bag his second of the game in the 66th minute.
Picture this, and forgive yourself if it’s a bit too easy: The United States men’s national team seizes control of its World Cup destiny with a decisive home win Friday against Panama, then needs very little from Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.
That second match sees the Yanks off to a slow start at Ato Boldon Stadium, a defensive fluke sending them down early en route to a wild and entertaining ending, failing to find more than an equalizer once they snap out of their funk and get to playing their game.
If you were to ask me my No. 1 concern for this week’s monumental World Cup qualifiers, the ones that stand between the Americans and their hopes for a eighth-straight World Cup appearance, that’s it: Entitlement.
I’m not sure when the mentality of the USMNT went from upstart grinders to presumed favorites, but it may have happened some time in the intense scrutiny of the Jurgen Klinsmann era. We have to wonder if, under any other coach, advancing from a group with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana would’ve been viewed as anything other than an unqualified success.
Klinsmann earned himself the opportunity to be rightly fired when his inconsistent teams looked either ill-prepared tactically or poorly-chosen toward the end of his tenure. The Mexico loss at home was disappointing, and the team looked like it hadn’t grasped what happened when it rolled into Costa Rica and got its guts kicked in by Los Ticos a few days later.
The choice of Bruce Arena as next man up was questionable in terms of ambition and scope, but would almost certainly settle the team. And it did. Though the performances were largely less than impressive, the Yanks didn’t lose for the better part of a pregnancy.
But there were labor pains along the way, performances that raised eyebrows. For every tactically strong 1-1 draw in Mexico, there was the Gold Cup group-stage opening draw with Panama. For every 6-0 waxing of Honduras, there’s a self-satisfied 3-2 sleepwalker versus Martinique. And you could argue it birthed September’s home loss to Costa Rica and draw at Honduras.
Sure there are natural ebbs and flows to every team, but you need look no further than the top teams on the Hex table to see there are two gulfs of difference. In Mexico, there’s a top-to-bottom depth the Americans do not have, but in Costa Rica the troubles are, well, more troubling.
You cannot look at the Costa Rican squad and have much question that the best players are being called up, nor that they aren’t over-performing. Los Ticos did this at the last World Cup, and are doing it again despite changing coaches.
With incredible respect to Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Bryan Oviedo, and Marco Urena, they aren’t touching the Yanks’ corps. And that’s what makes it all the more problematic. The U.S. won the Gold Cup with a B Team, but maybe would’ve been better suited to keep more main men in the fold to grow in cohesion ahead of September.
At the risk of turning this into a gripe fest, which would be wrong when I genuinely believe the Yanks should run riot on Friday and then bear down in T&T for another win, it stings to stand not too far from a cliff that would cost Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, and Kellyn Acosta their first World Cups, and DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks their second.
The average age of this week’s squad is 28. It’s good enough to get two wins, especially with clear-cut, no-doubt starters like Geoff Cameron, Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Bobby Wood. Michael Bradley and Tim Howard likely fit that bill, too. So does Fabian Johnson, but that’s another story since he’s not up to snuff according to Arena.
Well, it’s 2017, and it shouldn’t matter if the other teams are a bit better because of Major League Soccer. So are your guys. The resources of U.S. Soccer, the laughably forgiving nature of CONCACAF qualifying, and the talent available dictate that the USMNT should walk to every single World Cup if it’s doing its job in an average fashion.
The U.S. is 2-3-3 in the Hex, snaring about 38 percent of available points. If it advanced with a win and draw or two wins, it will have headed to Russia with either 43 or 50 percent of possible points. Only a handful of nations are on pace to get to the World Cup with around half a points haul.
Even getting past the doubts that Arena is going to see past his tried and hopefully true philosophies and line up a team that doesn’t seem aimed at trolling his critics by becoming, as a friend put it, so anti-Klinsmann that it’s strikingly similar to Klinsmann, the Americans have the talent to pull this off and head to Russia.
Yet for the first time in a long time, it’s not skill, or tactics, or technique that I’m worried about when it comes to what could fell the USMNT; It’s mentality. And at this point, I’d rather have the crew of guys who thought they’d have to win despite their coach than the ones who feel comfortable with their boss.
The Yanks’ A Team hasn’t played well throughout consecutive matches in some time, probably going beyond Arena’s tenure and deep into Klinsmann’s (group stage of Copa America? The 2015 friendly wins in Germany and Holland?).
This week becoming a chance to try out young kids in serious competition was out of the window with September’s results, if not the opening losses to Mexico and Costa Rica. Underperforming on Friday and Tuesday could close down Arena’s chances of meaningful experimentation in November friendlies because of an unnecessary international playoff (or worse).
Maybe it’s as simple as flipping a switch. Maybe I’m overemphasizing minor mental flaws that will be systematically overrun by the magnitude of this week. I hope either of those are correct, but for the first time in ages my anxiety goes beyond skill set. And that’s nerve-wracking stuff.
The visitors surprised United by forcing an FA Cup replay in 2006, and the Red Devils repaid them with a 5-0 lashing. Burton was in the Conference then, and have risen dramatically in the last few seasons and surprised by surviving a Championship campaign in 2016-17. This one won’t be close, but it’ll be better than 5-0 for Nigel Clough’s Brewers.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City
Tony Pulis has been able to stymy a lot of teams, but Man City isn’t one of them. West Brom boasts 11-straight wins over the Baggies, the last of which have been by multiple goals. West Brom’s last draw vs. City was Boxing Day 2011. Its last win? Sept. 22, 2010 in the League Cup. Can the Hawthorns be the venue for a surprise?
Will inexperience and perceived B-teams be enough to open up the Gold Cup for a side not named Mexico or the United States?
El Tri and the USMNT have won 12 of 13 Gold Cups, with Canada’s unlikely 2000 triumph the only other offering.
Mexico will be without a bevy of stars and coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who was suspended six games by FIFA for his uproarious behavior in the Confederations Cup. Bruce Arena’s U.S. side doesn’t have it’s marquee names, either, with most European-based players allowed to focus on their preseasons.
Costa Rica left some stars behind, but will weaken many defenses with Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell while staying strong at the back with Giancarlo Gonzalez and Bryan Oviedo.
So how will it shake out?
Costa Rica should coast to the top of the group, leaving Canada and Honduras to dual for second. This one will come down to the last day, with the latter two meeting in Frisco, Texas. Canada isn’t the arctic, but that should favor Los Catrachos.
The Yanks were very lucky to avoid a huge challenge, though playing Panama first provides a chance for an early hiccup. Otherwise, this group should be sleepy.
Mexico and Jamaica are clear favorites, but El Salvador is better than many realize and Curacao is the definition of a wild card thanks to Dutch imports Leandro Bacuna (Aston Villa) and ex-Ajax property Gino van Kessel.
Costa Rica def. Panama
USMNT def. El Salvador
Mexico defeats Canada
Jamaica defeats Honduras