Costa Rica vs. USA: 5 key players

PHILADELPHIA , PA - JULY 19: Jozy Altidore
PHILADELPHIA , PA - JULY 19: Jozy Altidore /

The United States will meet Costa Rica in the semifinals of the 2017 Gold Cup on Saturday. Here are five key players to watch.

The U.S. men’s national team moved closer to their sixth CONCACAF championship after dispatching El Salvador by a score of 2-0 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. They will meet Costa Rica on Saturday for a chance to advance to the Gold Cup final.

Costa Rica have been one of the better sides in the tournament. After finishing atop Group A with  a 2-1-0 record, they defeated Panama in their quarterfinal, 1-0, thanks to an own goal. The U.S. have yet to put in a great performance at the Gold Cup, failing to find a positive group chemistry and surviving multiple defensive lapses, even after reinforcements in the form of Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley arrived.

Let’s take a look at five key players in this semifinal matchup.

1. Jozy Altidore – USA

Altidore had a rough outing on Wednesday, mostly because he had an El Salvador defender hanging onto him for the entire match. The Toronto FC striker endured multiple cheap shots, including a twisted nipple and a bite to the shoulder. He showed enormous restraint in not lashing out at opponents, but was taken out of the game to a certain extent due to the abuse.

We know what to expect from Clint Dempsey: he’s good for at least one game-changing play per match. What makes Altidore key to this match is his hold up play and his superior strength. If he can beast the Costa Rican back line and open up scoring opportunities for his teammates, the USMNT have a good chance of advancing to the final.

If, however, Altidore struggles to hold up the ball, the Yanks could have a hard time generating chances. The big man is due for a goal. The U.S. may desperately need one.

2. Bryan Ruiz – Costa Rica

The Costa Rican captain is the point guard for his squad. Ruiz hasn’t scored for Costa Rica in the Gold Cup yet, but his teammates look to him for leadership and play-making. If his side is to have a chance against the U.S., the Sporting Lisbon player will have to make his presence known in this match.

The USMNT have dominated Costa Rica in Gold Cup play, posting a 6-0-1 record against the Ticos. Costa Rica will have to play at their best if they hope to buck this trend. No player will have more of a say on the outcome on this game than Bryan Ruiz.

3. Darlington Nagbe – USA

The U.S. have struggled mightily in establishing an attacking flow in the Gold Cup. In the group stage, the midfield and the forwards never got in sync enough to dominate a match. The absence of Christian Pulisic from this team is deeply felt.

The main thing missing from this U.S. side has been a player to push the attack and find teammates in dangerous positions. Darlington Nagbe has that ability. He showed flashes of it against El Salvador, but the Portland Timbers man will need to be a more consistent threat against Costa Rica.

4. Patrick Pemberton – Costa Rica

Costa Rica have only given up one goal in the 2017 Gold Cup. How their defenders deal with the American attackers will play a pivotal role on Saturday. But the Yanks will surely break through on goal on multiple occasions, meaning Costa Rican goalkeeper, Patrick Pemberton, will have to make some big saves.

The lone goal given up by Pemberton was scored by Canadian teenage sensation, Alphonso Davies in their group stage matchup. The Costa Rican keeper went to ground a bit early, but there wasn’t really much he could do as Davies had a point-blank look from a few yards out. However, those are the shots he will need to stop for Costa Rica to have a chance of advancing to the final.

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5. Tim Howard – USA

It feels kind of lame to include the two goalkeepers, but this is Tim Howard we are talking about here. Also, the USMNT defenders have been trash in the Gold Cup. In fact, the goals from Eric Lichaj and Omar Gonzalez against El Salvador are the most notable plays U.S. defenders have made in the tournament.

With that being said, Howard probably will not be tested much on Saturday. But on those few occasions, the USA legend must stand his ground. As an example, he had to come out to the edge of the box on Wednesday to make a huge stop after Lichaj hung him out to dry with a horrendous back pass.

Overall, the USMNT defense must be much better against Costa Rica. But a breakdown or two is almost a guarantee on Saturday. Howard will need to play hero once again.