Tuesday’s soccer news starts with the USMNT finishing out this run of games with a Wednesday friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium. While adding a friendly at the end of the Nations League run against a fellow semifinalist might seem strange, it’s part of USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter’s acclimatization plan for World Cup qualifying.
The games will come quickly starting in September, and the time is now to give the team that experience. What that means in a friendly setting against the team that lost the 3rd-place game may not be worth asking. Friendlies still hold a purpose, even in the era of the Nations League. It’s an opportunity to try things out minus the pressure of points or advancing in a tournament setting. With that in mind, here are three things that may be worth a look when the USMNT hosts Costa Rica (Wed, 7pm ET – ESPN2).
Costa Rica’s Nations League
After the drama of Sunday’s final, it’s easy to overlook the 3rd-place game earlier in the day. After taking Mexico to penalties in their semifinal, Costa Rica lost to Honduras in the consolation game again on penalties and by the same 5-4 margin. The difference was that while the Mexico game ended scoreless, Costa Rica drew 2-2 with Honduras. Joseph Campbell put them up in the 8th minute with Honduras equalizing in the 48th. After falling behind in the 80th, Francisco Calvo equalized for Costa Rica in the 85th.
What we saw is a Costa Rica team that almost pulled off a surprise result in the semis once again coming close. That has to be frustrating, especially since they’re now facing a scenario where they have to play the other Nations League semifinalist. Obviously, the situation has lost its punch. The trophy is the USMNT’s, and it’s hard to talk about bragging rights three days after the conclusion of the Nations League.
The USMNT’s rotation
In a friendly following the games that count, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter will have the freedom to experiment. There are players and combinations that we haven’t seen over the last three games, potentially adding to his body of knowledge coming out of this run of games. That’s important, a real world understanding of what players can do against a top Concacaf opponent.
The USMNT already used the Nations League to make a clear statement. This group isn’t backing down and is ready to play through any situation. If Costa Rica wants to attempt to get a bit of swagger back from a disappointing Nations League, Berhalter’s squad should have an answer. What we’re clearly seeing is a deep bench that can sub in and help.
The USMNT started this run of games with 11 shots, five on goal against Switzerland. Against Honduras, it was ten shots with four on goal. In the final against Mexico, the USMNT took 14 shots putting seven on goal. Costa Rica had one shot on goal from five against Mexico and three from six against Honduras. That would suggest a more conservative game plan from Costa Rica, but in a friendly setting that may not hold.
One of the remaining questions for the USMNT is forward production. Mexico outshot the US 21 to 14 while matching their seven shots on goal. It’s certainly worth wondering what the United States could do with more offensive output over 90 minutes. Should Berhalter choose to push the offense, there are certainly enough options to make it work. More than anything, that’s what this part of the schedule is stressing. The USMNT has options all over the field.
Moving to the soccer news, Soccer America’s Scott French talks to Columbus Crew coach Caleb Porter about defending a championship and the quality of MLS. The LA Times’ Kevin Baxter reports on the MLS All-Star game in LA. The San Diego Union-Trubine’s Mark Zeigler with the NWSL expanding to San Diego in 2022. The Ringer’s Brian Phillips asks why there are so many games on the schedule.
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