The Case For Ariel Rodriguez

Saprissa is one point away from qualifying for the Gran Final, yet Ariel Rodriguez — who’s played a massive role in carrying them there — couldn’t be farther away from a place in the World Cup.

Costa Rica will be without its most potent striker in Russia — not because of injury — but because of stubbornness.

It’s time for Oscar Ramirez to recognize real.

This wasn’t the easiest case to make as early as four weeks ago. (Luckily, I’ve been making this case for three years now.)

Rodriguez rarely featured for Saprissa, averaging only 45 minutes per appearance during the Clausura. Known for his goal-scoring prowess — he finished with 20 goals in his last full season with Saprissa in 2015 — he only managed to find the back of the net twice entering the Cuadrangular.

Fast forward to today. Rodriguez has more goals in this playoff (five) than Santos de Guapiles has as a team (four). Including assists, he’s accounted for 50 percent of Saprissa’s goals.

His opener set the tone for what was a comprehensive 2-1 victory over Herediano on Wednesday.

It took four months, but Rodriguez finally returned to form. The cobwebs of spending two full years in Thailand have been shaken. He’s adapted to the much-improved domestic league he left in 2016.

With six goals in his last six games, Rodriguez is the most in-form striker in Costa Rica’s pool.

And yet, despite all that, he’ll likely miss out on Russia.

Why? Because of his own teammate. Not Daniel Colindres, Christian Bolaños, nor David Ramirez, but Johan Venegas.

It should be noted that Venegas is currently out with a muscular injury, but it’s no secret that Machillo favors his former prodigy. Despite leaving him out of the national team in March, Machillo made it abundantly clear that Venegas still has a place on La Sele and it’s as a center forward.

“Johan’s struggles can be attached to his return from MLS,” Machillo said of Venegas in March, per Nacion. “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.”

Except it no longer has to be. Not when there’s a pure center forward at his disposal.

When considering a possible 23-man roster, seven spots will be allocated to wide midfielders and strikers. Presumably, the four midfielders will be Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell, Colindres and Bolaños. The three strikers will be Marco Ureña, Ramirez and Venegas.

As solid a front seven as that is, it’s still a true center forward short.

Fortunately for Machillo, he can have his cake and eat it too.

Both Colindres and Bolaños are on the wrong side of 30 (33), but Bolaños’ previous World Cup experience cannot be overlooked. Neither can his contributions this qualifying cycle. As instrumental as Colindres was in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Mexico — creating the equalizer — it’s not reason enough to land him in Russia.

Your work was appreciated, Colindres, but it’s no longer needed.

Both Ramirez and Venegas have featured for La Sele in wide positions, and can do so again. Moving either from the center forward position to the wing solves two problems for Machillo:

  1. It creates a roster spot for Rodriguez.
  2. It drops Costa Rica’s average age from “old as fuck” to just “old.”

Colindres is nearly six years Rodriguez’s senior.

Admittedly, none of this will impact the starting lineup come June. Despite facial surgery, Ureña will still lead the line in Russia; however, that doesn’t change this simple fact:

Venegas does not belong in a World Cup ahead of Rodriguez. It’s time for Oscar Ramirez to let go of his pet project.

Because down a goal with 10 minutes to go, I’d rather bring this man off the bench…

Than this one.

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