[USA-COSTA RICA]Familiar foes they may be, but both Costa Rica and the USA are in makeover mode heading into a Friday friendly (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Galavision) at Home Depot Center.
This will be the second game in charge for recently hired U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the only game in charge for Costa Rican interim coach Ronald Gonzalez. Following a busy two months of Concacaf Gold Cup and Copa America participation, Ricardo La Volpe resigned, and will be replaced by Jorge Luis Pintoof Colombia after the USA game.
“It’s just another game against a team we’re somewhat familiar with, I guess, but they’ve changed coaches recently and they have a few new faces in, kind of like our team,” says U.S. defender and captain Carlos Bocanegra. “I don’t think that’s such a big deal.”
The Costa Ricans may view this renewal somewhat differently, since by scoring in stoppage time at RFK Stadium in October 2009, to secure a 2-2 tie in their last meeting, the Americans topped the Hexagonal and also forced Costa Rica into a final playoff against Uruguay for a World Cup spot, which Uruguay won.
As of Thursday afternoon, about 11,000 tickets have been sold for Friday's game.
Both teams played in the Gold Cup. The Americans reached the final, and were blasted, 4-2, by Mexico in what turned out to be Bob Bradley’s last game as head coach. Costa Rica finished second in its group to Mexico, and in the quarterfinals lost to Honduras on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. It also played in the Copa America as Japan’s replacement: in group play, though it beat Bolivia, 2-0, losses to Colombia (1-0) and Argentina (3-0) eliminated it from the knockout rounds.
Bryan Ruiz, who scored both of Costa Rica’s goals in that game at RFK, isn’t in the squad this time. A last-minute transfer deal this week sent him from Dutch club FC Twente to Fulham, where he’ll be a teammate of Clint Dempsey, who’s also absent from the U.S. training camp in Carson.
In the past five days, there’s been more news about which players can’t or won’t play against Costa Rica than those who will. Fabian Johnson is training with the team but isn’t eligible to play, since he’s yet to file his application with FIFA to change his playing allegiance to Germany, which he’s represented at the U-21 level.
Injuries knocked FC Dallas teammates Heath Pearceand Zach Loydoff the roster; they were replaced byChris Pontius and Jonathan Spector. Passing up the Costa Rica game are Kyle Beckerman, Steve Cherundolo and Dempsey; they will join the team in Brussels, where it plays Belgium on Tuesday. Landon Donovan is available for Costa Rica but won’t be crossing the Atlantic; he’ll stay behind to play for the Galaxy Monday in Kansas City.
If preparations seem hurried in the wake of personnel changes and double-session days, to be followed by whirlwind trip to play a second game nine time zones away, the excitement of a new era under Klinsmann seems to be overriding everything else.
Bocanegra, for example, just completed a transfer from French club Saint-Etienne to legendary Scottish club Rangers, yet he’s jumped right into the flow.
“We’ve been working on ourselves a lot this week, which I think is what we’re going to be doing for the next year leading up to the World Cup qualifiers,” says Bocanegra. “We’ve watched some of Costa Rica already and we know a bit about them, but the biggest focus is just on ourselves and improving ourselves tactically and how we move as a group and getting used to each other’s tendencies and movements.
“That’s our biggest thing here and we’re focusing more on that than anything else, like which team we’re going to play.”
On the eve of just his second game in charge, Klinsmann has clearly instilled a long-term view. Probably not since Bora Milutinovic took over the national team in 1991 to implement a three-year plan leading up to the 1994 World Cup has there been such a prominence placed on the next phase, rather than the next game.
“After a year of being together, when World Cup qualifiers start, we’ll be a lot more comfortable and on the same page a lot more,” says Bocanegra. “It’s been good. Guys have had open minds and are trying to learn and adapt to the system he has in mind and his philosophy.
“Guys have come in with a lot of energy, which is great, and are proving themselves all over again. Friday night will be another opportunity for us to implement that. “