The United States Men’s National Team’s January camp concluded with a 2-0 win over a young Costa Rica squad at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola supplied the offense late in the second half and the USMNT improved to 2-0 — without conceding a goal — since Gregg Berhalter took over as manager.
Berhalter brought out a similar XI friendly against Panama last weekend. The two changes to the starting lineup for this match were Wil Trapp in place of Michael Bradley and Paul Arriola in for Jeremy Ebobisse.
As with the match against Panama, the USMNT came out in what appeared to be a shifting 3-4-3 formation, especially when attacking. The Yanks started with a high press, maintaining constant pressure on the Costa Rican players in possession. In defense, the yanks shifted to a 4-4-2, leaving Gyasi Zardes and Djordje Mihailovic up top for the counter attack.
The beginning of the match seemed a bit nervous for both squads as they tried to feel each other out. In the seventh minute, Aaron Long committed a tough tackle, giving Costa Rica a free kick just outside the 18. The kick was driven directly into the wall, with the rebound shot sailing high over the bar.
Costa Rica was able to find room and passing lanes in the middle of the pitch as the two USMNT attacking midfielders were pressed fairly high to start the match. The nervousness continued through the first 15 minutes, as it was obvious that both teams needed some time to settle into the match.
In the 15th minute, the Yanks had a good counter attack opportunity after a Costa Rica turnover at midfield, getting the ball to Zardes at the top of the box, but his attempted cross was blocked and cleared. The U.S. continued to press, and started to find success and space running the ball up the wings, spreading the Costa Rican defense with wide play. Throughout the first half, Costa Rica maintained a very compact shape, almost giving the U.S. the flanks.
Zardes had the the first threatening shot for the USMNT, a try from about 25 yards out that forced a save, albeit a rather comfortable save, from the Costa Rican keeper. The U.S. then began to get a bit sloppy, especially in the midfield as the youngsters mistimed their passes, were not on the same page, and seemed to lose a bit of focus. Trapp was just the opposite, maintaining very good position, constantly intercepting passes in dangerous areas and keeping positive pressure on the Costa Rican players in front of him. Daniel Lovitz, who had a number of poor passes and unnecessary turnovers in the final and middle third.
The Yanks were looking a bit sloppy and tired toward the end of the first half. The passing was getting wildly inaccurate, bad fouls were being conceded, and the squad looked very sluggish. Milhailovic seemed to be running on heavy legs, not showing the flashes of dangerous play that we saw from him in the previous match. He was also the victim of a lopsided number of fouls by Los Ticos. The first half ended 0-0 in a match that seemed fairly even.
The USMNT came out for the second half looking a bit rejuvenated. Five minutes into the second half, on a wonderful buildup of play, the ball fell to Cristian Roldan who had a ton of clear net in front of him, but his shot sailed high. Just a few moments later, the match saw its first card, as a yellow was shown after another late tackle on Milhailovic. A moment later, Nick Lima hit the woodwork on a wonderful shot. The ball was cleared by the Costa Rican defense, only to be reclaimed in the middle third and passed to Lovitz who drove at the back line, sending a cross into the box that Milhailovic just couldn’t connect with.
The next opportunity came from a corner, when Long attacked the cross at the near post and flicked the ball towards goal. The ball deflected off of a defender and was going in but was cleared off the line. The clearance did not go far. In fact, it went right back to Long, who lined up for a better shot but sent the ball over the goal.
The match started to get very physical after the 60th minute on both sides. Milhailovic was one of the constant targets of physicality, which may have been part of the reason that he was subbed off in the 62nd minute for Lletget. The match continued to get chippy, but the Yanks were certainly looking the more dangerous squad. A USMNT corner kick in the 67th minute saw Roldan hit woodwork on a lovely half volley, the same post Lima hit just minutes before. The left side of the Yanks’ offense was looking extremely dangerous and Costa Rica did not seem to have a way to shut it down.
The 70th minute saw the Yanks’ second substitution with Corey Baird being replaced by Jonathan Lewis right after Baird had a header opportunity off of a Zardes flick on.
The impact of the Lletget sub was massive. The U.S. squad looked completely refocused and poised. In the 78th minute, Zardes was replaced by Christian Ramirez, and the U.S. found another gear.
Finally in the 80th minute, after the substitutes and slight positional switches had a second to settle, Trapp sent a long ball over the top of the left side to a streaking Lewis, who drove to the end line and sent a cross to Lletget at the back post. The Galaxy attacker headed the ball back across goal low and in to open the scoring. It was Lewis’ second assist in as many caps.
Eight minutes later, Arriola scored the second goal for the U.S. It all started with goalkeeper Zack Steffen sending a ball to midfield when the U.S. had played out of the back for the vast majority of the match. It was flicked on and picked up by Lletget, who sent the ball forward to a streaking Arriola. He had only to beat the Costa Rican keeper and lift the ball into the goal.
In front of just over 13,000 fans, the young Yanks handed Berhalter his second win as the new coach for the USMNT. There were moments of heavy legs, poor passes, and bad decisions, but on the whole, the young squad looked good. Berhalter has his hands full now as the next time he names players for the squad, he will be able to pull from the full depth of pool players.
“Dos a Cero” is a great way to start 2019, and so is holding 59% possession, out-shooting the opponent 12-6, and a defense that only asked Steffen to make one save.