Matt Besler vs. Costa Rica - July 22, 2017

U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Costa Rica
2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying| CONCACAF Hexagonal
Friday, Sept. 1| 5:30 p.m. CT | ESPN, Univisión, UDN
Red Bull Arena | Harrison, New Jersey


Sporting Kansas City defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi have swapped club for country as the U.S. Men’s National Team prepares for two all-important FIFA World Cup qualifiers in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal. First up is a battle with Costa Rica, with live coverage beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT on ESPN, Univision and UDN.


Head coach Bruce Arena’s men enter the fixture with a clear-cut objective: #Get3 points to strengthen their qualifying odds on the long and winding road to Russia, where the FIFA World Cup will take place next summer.


Seeking Second

The U.S. MNT currently occupies third place in the Hexagonal standings, six points behind leaders Mexico and three behind Costa Rica. A victory on Friday would see the Americans leapfrog Los Ticos and create a bit of breathing room ahead of a tricky trip to Honduras next week.

Team
PTS
W
L
D
GF
GA
GD
Mexico
14
4
0
2
9
2
+7
Costa Rica
11
3
1
2
9
4
+5
United States
8
2
2
2
11
8
+3
Panama
7
1
1
4
4
4
  0
Honduras
5
1
3
2
6
14
-8
Trinidad and Tobago
3
1
5
0
3
10
-7

All teams in the Hexagonal will play four more matches between now and Oct. 10, with the top three finishers securing automatic berths to the 2018 World Cup. The fourth-place finisher will progress to a two-legged playoff against an Asian side in November with a World Cup spot going to the victor.


With Panama lurking just a point behind the U.S., a palpable urgency to take all three points has engulfed Friday’s fixture against Costa Rica. The Stars and Stripes shouldn’t be short of confidence, however, as the team boasts a 9-0-5 record since Arena took the helm last November.

Kansas City Contingent

ESPN color analyst Taylor Twellman joined the Sporting KC Show on Sports Radio 810 WHB this Tuesday, offering a frank assessment of Besler and Zusi’s national team roles.


“I'd be shocked if you don't see Matt Besler or Graham Zusi in both games, especially the one at home,” Twellman said, citing the duo’s experience in big matches and overall reliability as “known quantities” in the squad.


Indeed, Besler and Zusi have plenty of exposure on the brightest international stages. The 2014 World Cup veterans also featured at the 2016 Copa America and started in the semifinals and finals of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup last month. Both players have enjoyed a strong run of form with Sporting Kansas City and figure to be strong candidates to fill two starting spots Friday — Besler as a central defender and Zusi as a right back.



Familiar Foes

Friday’s opponents have battled three times over the last 15 months, and the stakes have been high on each occasion. The U.S. landed a major punch at the Copa America last summer, cruising to a rampant 4-0 group stage victory that saw Zusi come off the bench to score a goal.

Los Ticos exacted revenge in emphatic style last November, earning a 4-0 win of their own in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose to drop the U.S. to an 0-2 start in the Hex.


The most recent meeting was far more competitive, as the sides locked horns in the Gold Cup semifinals on July 22 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. A delicately poised affair swayed in favor of the hosts as Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey struck late to propel the U.S. to the final.


These teams have played 36 times overall and sit exactly even with a 15-15-6 series record. On an encouraging note, the U.S. owns a 6-1-2 record against Costa Rica in World Cup qualifiers played on American soil.


Home Field Advantage?

Friday’s match at Red Bull Arena is a bona fide home game for the U.S., but Northeast New Jersey has the highest concentration of Costa Rican immigrants in the country. A loud contingent of support could give lost Ticos an extra gear amid what should still be a pro-USA crowd.


Remarkably, Friday marks just the fourth competitive match the Americans have ever played in the New York metro. The three previous matches took place at the 2005 and 2009 Gold Cups, both of which essentially served as experimental B-team tournaments for the U.S. MNT.


Los Ticos

Coming in at No. 21 in the latest FIFA rankings — five spots ahead of the USA — Costa Rica has given a good account of itself ever since reaching the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.


After easily advancing to the Hex, Costa Rica kicked off the final round with a 2-0 win at Trinidad and Tobago and a 4-0 home win over the USA last November. A three-game winless skid ensued, as Los Ticos lost 2-0 at Mexico and drew 1-1 at Honduras in March before playing Panama to a 0-0 home draw in June. Head coach Oscar Ramirez’s men got back on track with a 2-1 home win over Trinidad and Tobago on June 13.


The current 24-man roster features a healthy contingent of MLS players, namely defenders Francisco Calvo (Minnesota) and Kendall Waston (Vancouver); midfielders Cristian Bolanos (Vancouver), David Guzman (Portland), Johan Venegas (Minnesota) and Rodney Wallace (NYCFC); and forward Marco Urena (San Jose).


U.S. MNT Roster


GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)


DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/ENG), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)


MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC)


FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER)


Costa Rica Roster


GOALKEEPERS (3): Leonel Moreira (Herediano), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense), Keylor Navas (Real Madrid/ESP)


DEFENDERS (9): Johnny Acosta (Herediano), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United FC/USA), Cristian Gamboa (Celtic/SCO), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna/ITA), Kenner Gutierrez (Alajuelense), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland/ENG), Jose Salvatierra (Alajuelense), Michael Umaña (Pars Jonoubi/IRN), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps FC/CAN)


MIDFIELDERS (8): Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), Cristian Bolaños (Vancouver Whitecaps FC/CAN), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruña/ESP), David Guzmán (Portland Timbers/USA), Bryan Ruíz (Sporting Lisbon/POR), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne-Sport/SUI), Johan Venegas (Minnesota United FC/USA), Rodney Wallace (New York City FC/USA)


FORWARDS (4): Daniel Colindres (Saprissa), Josê Ortiz (Herediano), David Ramírez (Saprissa), Marco Ureña (San Jose Earthquakes/USA)