2018 World Cup Chances for Every Costa Rican in MLS

MLS kicks off its 23rd season on Saturday. For nine Costa Rican internationals, this season is more than just a battle for MLS glory. It’s the final opportunity to impress ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

And impress they must because not all are making the trip to Russia.

From the most obvious to on the bubble, here is each player’s chance to represent La Sele come June.

Note: This article doesn’t consider the chances of the Ariel Lassiters of the world…because they have none. Even Joseph Mora — who recently made the jump from Saprissa to DC United, per Teletica — stands no chance. If they weren’t named, it’s because they weren’t worth my time.

Kendall Waston, D, Vancouver Whitecaps

We once lived in a world where Keynor Brown was favored over Kendall Waston. The hell were we thinking?

Waston’s legend continues to grow in Costa Rica. It was only fitting that his stoppage-time equalizer sealed Costa Rica’s World Cup qualification. In fact, Waston’s stature has grown to the point where, if not for Bryan Ruiz, he’d best serve as captain for La Sele.

Verdict: On the plane

Francisco Calvo, D, Minnesota United

Calvo’s versatility makes him an integral part of La Sele. Predominantly featuring as a left center back in the 5-4-1, the Minnesota United defender can also fill in at left wingback.

The only question surrounding Calvo in 2018 is whether he’ll start in Russia. With Oscar Duarte returning from injury and playing consistently for Espanyol, there won’t be enough room for him in the starting XI.

Plenty of room for him on that plane, though.

Verdict: On the plane

David Guzman, M, Portland Timbers

Finding the ideal partner for Celso Borges will be Oscar Ramirez’s primary focus in midfield. Guzman remains a top candidate for the job, with Randall Azofeifa and Yeltsin Tejeda also vying for minutes.

He’ll have his fair share of competition in training camp, but there’s no denying his inclusion.

Verdict: On the plane

Ronald Matarrita, D, NYCFC

Many have forgotten Mataritta’s contributions. For some, Bryan Oviedo was always atop the depth chart at LWB. Matarrita’s injury-riddled 2017 helped reinforce that thought.

Now, fully recovered, the 23 year old is on a mission to reclaim the spot he predominantly held this World Cup cycle. He’ll have ample opportunity to showcase his talents playing on a nationally televised stage seemingly every week.

Verdict: On the plane

Marco Ureña, F, LAFC

Relive Costa Rica’s 2-0 win over the U.S. men’s national team and their 1-1 draw with Mexico. This is a no-brainer, right?

Not even the goal-scoring form of Yendrick Ruiz and Jonathan McDonald — the two have a combined 17 league goals in Costa Rica — will keep Ureña from Russia.

Verdict: On the plane

Rodney Wallace, M, NYCFC

Wallace would firmly be on the bubble and on the outside looking in, but Johan Venegas keeps popping it every chance he gets. Featuring on the same nationally televised stage as Matarrita, Wallace can easily jump over Venegas in the pecking order with a strong first half of the season.

But if he struggles, all bets are off.

Verdict: On the bubble

Ulises Segura, M, DC United

This is where it gets interesting.

Before the start of the Clausura campaign in Costa Rica, Segura was one of the projected 23. The competition has only intensified since then. What was once an obvious inclusion is now in jeopardy.

Not helping matters is Segura’s role with DC United. The 24 year old will feature in central midfield next to Zoltan Stieber, per Steven Goff of the Washington Post. To be fair, that’s where he belongs. It’s the role that allowed his star to rise with Saprissa, this after starting his professional career on the wing.

The problem is: that’s not how Machillo utilizes him.

To feature in central midfield, Segura would have to jump the likes of Borges, Guzman, Azofeifa and Tejeda. Even Michael Barrantes is making his case at 34 years young. He’ll likely be pigeonholed on the wing, where he’s failed to impress before.

But even that position is congested with Wallace, Ruiz, Venegas and Elias Aguilar. If an additional wide midfielder is needed — one that can tuck in and create space for the wingbacks to exploit — Machillo is better off taking Christian Bolaños.

Segura is going to need an otherworldly three months to break through.

Verdict: Misses out

Julio Cascante, D, Portland Timbers

Cascante made the jump to MLS at the most opportune time. There was zero chance he broke into the national team with Saprissa. Even Michael Umaña and Johnny Acosta — who are a combined 69 years old — keep getting looks.

Now with the Timbers, playing behind Guzman, Cascante can make a late push for Russia.

Waston, Duarte, Calvo and Giancarlo Gonzalez are atop the depth chart. The only person standing in Cascante’s way is Kenner Gutierrez, who is making the most of his opportunities at Alajuelense.

Cascante can play himself in. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

Verdict: Misses out

Waylon Francis, D, Seattle Sounders

“Llore conmigo, papi.”

Francis’ famous words following Costa Rica’s win over Greece in Brazil will likely be his last World Cup contribution. The unexpected rise of Matarrita and health of Oviedo left him on the outside looking in this cycle.

Don’t expect that to change in 2018.

Verdict: Misses out

Potential 23

We’re still 105 days from the World Cup, so this is all subject to change; however, based on current form, this is how Costa Rica’s 23-man roster is shaping up.

Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense), Leonel Moreira (Herediano)

Defenders (Center Backs): Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Kenner Gutierrez (Alajuelense)

Defenders (Wing Backs): Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Jose Salvatierra (Alajuelense)

Midfielders (Central): Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruña), David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne-Sport), Randall Azofeifa (Herediano)

Midfielders (Wide): Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Rodney Wallace (NYCFC), Christian Bolaños (Saprissa), Daniel Colindres (Saprissa)

Forwards: David Ramirez (Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Arsenal), Marco Ureña (LAFC)

Biggest snubs: Elias Aguilar, Johan Venegas

It’s possible for both Aguilar and Venagas to miss out on the World Cup. The two have been consistent call ups in recent years, the problem with that is: everyone is healthy now. (In Venegas’ case, everyone is outperforming him too.)

That’s a problem Machillo hasn’t dealt with since taking over in 2015.

At every turn, at least one or two players were absent to injury. If he has the full pool at his disposal, he’ll have difficult choices to make.

Don’t think Venegas or Aguilar miss the World Cup? My question back is: who do you leave out instead?

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