Making Sense of Costa Rica’s Latest 23-Man Roster

Oscar “Machillo” Ramirez named his 23-man roster on Thursday. People had shit to say about it.

This is what I took away.

The 23

Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Leonel Moreira (Herediano), Kevin Briceño (Saprissa)

Defenders (Center Backs): Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Johnny Acosta (Rionegro Aguilas)

Defenders (Wing Backs): Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Ian Smith (IFK Norrköping)

Midfielders (Central): Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruña), David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne-Sport), Wilmer Azofeifa (Santos de Guapiles)

Midfielders (Wide): Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Rodney Wallace (NYCFC), Ulises Segura (DC United), Daniel Colindres (Saprissa)

Forwards: Marco Ureña (LAFC), Josue Mitchell (Perez Zeledon), Yendrick Ruiz (Herediano)

Goalkeepers

There were no surprises with the selections of Navas and Moreira. Obviously, you’ll see both of them at the World Cup. You sure as fuck won’t be seeing Briceño. He’s keeping Patrick Pemberton’s spot warm until he fully returns from injury.

“The problem with Patrick [Pemberton] is that he hasn’t played,” Machillo said about his second-choice goalkeeper, per Nacion. “He’s recovering, but he hasn’t played a game. It’s difficult. Especially in that position.”

Once Pemberton returns between the posts for Alajuelense — he’s already in training — you’ll see him with La Sele.

Defenders (Center Backs)

Waston, Calvo, Gonzalez and Duarte were all foregone conclusions. The surprise here is Machillo’s incessant need to keep calling up Acosta, who’s 74 34 years old.

For those who don’t remember, Acosta left Herediano to sign with Rionegro Aguilas in January. They currently sit seventh in Colombia Categoria Primera A and Acosta is seeing consistent minutes. But even still, he’s undersized and 74 34 years old. You can’t expect to rely on him on the world’s biggest stage anymore.

It’s not as if Machillo has a lack of options, either. Kenner Gutierrez isn’t a world beater, but Alajuelense’s been ravished by injuries this season and he’s stepped up. Their star signing Roberto Chen literally lasted two minutes before going down to injury. Esteban Marin suffered the same fate just two weeks later. The club’s been forced to duct tape a back line together, even shoving Jose Miguel Cubero back there on occasion.

The only stabling defensive force during their resurgence this season has been Gutierrez.

It’s a puzzling decision from Machillo, one I still can’t figure out.

Defenders (Wing Backs)

Okay, who the fuck is Ian Smith?

That’s a question most of you are asking. No one’s exactly glued to IFK Norrköping matches on a weekly basis.

Smith, 20, represented Costa Rica at the U17 World Cup in 2015 and the U20 World Cup in 2017. His 2017 Apertura campaign with Santos de Guapiles — which included a magical run in the CONCACAF Champions League — secured his move to Sweden’s first division. For years now, he’s aspired to follow in Gamboa’s footsteps.

This will be his first opportunity to do so.

As giant an opportunity as it is, it only came to be because of injuries to Jose Salvatierra. The Alajuelense right back suffered a setback on Mar. 3 — this after initially going down to injury on Feb. 8. A lack of rhythm and minutes kept him from this month’s international friendlies.

Salvatierra doesn’t think it’ll keep him from the World Cup, though.

“Tactically, I know a lot about [Machillo’s] philosophy,” he said, per Nacion. “I understand it well and that’s something that benefits a soccer player. In my case, that’s how I grew up [as a player]. It helped me a lot on the field as a professional.”

In addition to his relationship with Machillo, Salvatierra also has World Cup qualifying, Gold Cup and international friendly experience. Smith has none of that at the senior level.

He’ll have to make the most of this opportunity if he wants to supplant Salvatierra come June.

Midfielders (Central)

Borges? Check.
Tejeda? Check.
Guzman? Check.
Azofeifa? Check.

Wait, that’s Wilmer Azofeifa, not Randall.

This was another head-turning decision from Machillo, and it was a much-welcomed one. Randall has seen a precipitous fall in form this season. He’s not the unquestioned starter he once was with Herediano. Wilmer, on the other hand, has been the engine driving Santos near the top of domestic table.

Add a higher level of technical proficiency and subtract a full 10 years of age, and you have a better Azofeifa to evaluate against Scotland and Tunisia. There’s no guarantee he’ll be on the plane to Russia — Machillo even admitted he only called him up to “give him a look” — but this is his opportunity to be a serious part of the conversation.

Midfielders (Wide)

There’s no need to spend time on Segura. Joel Campbell is still returning from injury and he’ll take his place in the 23. I initially had Campbell included as a “forward,” but that won’t be his designation.

The biggest takeaway here is Christian Bolaños’ absence. Machillo hasn’t exactly been impressed with his form since returning to Costa Rica. The math doesn’t add up for Bolaños, either.

There are four wide midfielder positions up for grabs. There are now two left after I mention Bryan and Campbell’s names. That leaves two spots for three more names you recognize.

Bolaños. Colindres. Wallace.

As of now, we know who the odd man out is.

Strikers

This is where everybody lost their damn mind.

Ureña. Mitchell. Ruiz.

No Johan Venegas. No Jonathan McDonald.

Let’s get the McDonald conversation out of the way. Leading the domestic league in goals scored (12) doesn’t mean you automatically deserve to be on the national team. Ask the United States what the consequences were of taking Chris Wondolowski to the World Cup. There’s more to it than that. McDonald doesn’t have the spatial awareness Ureña has, nor does he have the international experience. Admittedly, neither does Mitchell, but he’s not really going to the World Cup.

David Ramirez is still recovering from a grade 2 MCL injury he suffered at the end of February. Once fully recovered, he’ll rightfully be back with La Sele.

Yendrick also lacks true experience at the international level, so don’t expect him to all of a sudden be a part of the conversation. His inclusion has more to do with Venegas’ struggles. The biggest take away from all this is how much Machillo wants him to get back on track.

He wants his striker back.

“Johan’s struggles can be attached to his return from MLS,” Machillo said. “For me, it also has to do with his position. He plays as a [wide] midfielder [with Saprissa]. It’s another thing to play as a center forward. Against Colombia [at the 2016 Copa America], I played him as a center forward and I knew then that’s his position.”

Sorry, Yendrick. That’s his spot you’re holding.

A return to form will see him alongside Ureña and Ramirez. This is nothing more than a wake-up call for him to get his shit together.

Projected Lineup vs. Scotland

Costa Rica - Football tactics and formations

Projected Lineup vs. Tunisia

Costa Rica - Football tactics and formations

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