It's easy to dismiss the importance of a friendly game, especially one played at the end of a season, but a defeat can have consequences.
On Wednesday, the USA crushed Costa Rica, 4-0, scoring four goals on the Ticos for only the second time in their 40-game series, and their coach, Ronald Gonzalez, was fired after the game.
Costa Rican federation president Rodolfo Villalobos announced after the match that he would start the search for a new coach on Thursday, thanking Gonzalez for "his dedication, his discipline and his love of the shirt."
Costa Rica finished fourth in the Concacaf Nations League after losing to both Mexico in the semifinals and Honduras in the third-place game on penalties. The difference among the top four teams in the Nations League was razor-thin. The USA won the inaugural tournament but not before needing an 89th-minute goal to beat Honduras 1-0 in the semifinals and defeating Mexico 3-2 in overtime in the final, clinching the title on a saved penalty kick in the 124th minute.
In Wednesday's friendly in Sandy, Utah, only one team showed up. Even though the USA started only two players who had started in the Nations League final on Sunday, it jumped out to a 2-0 lead at halftime on goals by Brenden Aaronson and Daryl Dike and cruised with two more goals from Reggie Cannon and Gio Reyna in the second half.
The win was the 10th in a row for the USA against Concacaf opposition. In the last five friendlies, all wins, the USA has outscored Concacaf teams 27-3.
In one-off games against Concacaf teams, that difference is wiped away -- see the Honduras and Mexico games -- but these friendly results certainly confirm the superior depth of the USA when the two teams are something less than "A" teams. (Costa Rica started five starters from its semifinal loss to Mexico.)
Adding the third game against Costa Rica to give the USA three games in seven days was intended to replicate the upcoming World Cup 2022 qualifying format, where four of the five windows will feature three games in seven days. (The schedule had to be altered after the start of the final round of qualifying was delayed by 12 months due to COVID-19.)
UEFA started the same format in March, and teams fielded vastly different teams from game to game. Defending World Cup champion France, for example, started 20 different players in its three games.
"What I realized is that it's gonna take a group to get this done," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said of qualifying campaign that begins in September with three games (away-home-away). "It's not going to take 11 starters. We need the whole group. And we showed that today and throughout the three games. Everyone except [No. 3 keeper] David Ochoa got on the field. And that's what's going to be needed in World Cup qualifying."
For Costa Rica, Wednesday's defeat extended its winless streak to 11 games. It has won just one of 15 games since it lost in a shootout to Mexico in the 2019 Gold Cup semifinals. (The Ticos won their Nations League group with a win and three ties.)
In that regard, it's no surprise that Gonzalez, who was hired in October 2019 at the start of the Nations League, was fired. He probably would have been, regardless of the performance on Wednesday, but the Ticos were certainly bad.
The Costa Rican federation has a history of pulling the trigger quickly. In one 10-year period -- 1987-97 -- marked by its first appearance in the World Cup and its advancement to the quarterfinals under Bora Milutinovic, the Ticos went through 15 coaches.
You shouldn't count Costa Rica out either.
Until Wednesday, the Ticos' biggest loss to the USA was 4-0 in the 2016 Copa Centenario group stage. They turned around later in the year and beat the USA, 4-0, costing Jurgen Klinsmann his job, and then won, 2-0, in New Jersey, effectively derailing the USA's World Cup qualifying comeback from two opening defeats and becoming the first team ever to sweep the USA in the Hexagonal.
Dike Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire