Analyzing Costa Rica’s U23 Olympic Qualifying Roster

Costa Rica named its 20-man roster for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers on Wednesday.

I peed a little.

I’ll preface this piece by saying success should not be based on whether the team qualifies or not. We’ve only qualified once for this fucking thing in our history. That didn’t stop us from making two different runs into the knockout rounds of the World Cup.

The focus should be on individual performances.

Don’t expect every player to play significant minutes for the senior team, but you should be excited about the potential on this roster.

Kevin Chamorro (San Carlos)
Adonis Pineda (Sporting)
Patrick Sequeira (Celta de Vigo)

Patrick Sequeira’s loan at Celta Vigo B has been going so well, he received call-ups to the senior team. Unfortunately, that means he’ll be out of the first match of the qualifiers. You got lucky, America. Adonis Pineda and Kevin Chamorro are serviceable replacements, but neither are on the same tier as Sequeira.

Hopefully, the opportunity to qualify is still there when he joins the squad. The job between the posts is unquestionably his.

Ian Smith (Alajuelense)
Yurguin Roman (Alajuelense)
Luis Hernandez (Saprissa)

There isn’t much depth at this position. Ian Smith is the only right back on the roster, so he won’t have to worry about losing minutes to Jose Salvatierra.

There isn’t much of a battle at left-back, either.

Yurguin Roman’s been stellar since taking over for Facundo Zabala. His athleticism is on full display when Alajuelense is in transition, and he’s one of the few Costa Rican fullbacks who knows how to deliver an accurate cross. It’s a much-needed and welcomed skill after watching Ronald Matarrita try to do it the last few years.

Alexis Gamboa (Alajuelense)
Aaron Salazar (Herediano)
Fernan Faerron (Alajuelense)
Kevin Espinoza (Guadalupe)

This is easily the most intriguing position to monitor throughout the qualification process. You can make a case for all four centerbacks getting the start.

Alexis Gamboa returned to Costa Rica to live up to the promise he never reached in Belgium, but Fernan Faerron’s made a name for himself in Alajuelense’s backline.

Kevin Espinoza has battled injury for most of the 2021 Clausura, but when healthy, he is the most dominant defender on this roster. He is the best-kept secret in Costa Rica because he doesn’t play for one of the big three. He played 14 matches in the 2020 Apertura.

He had one yellow card.

Faerron had five for comparison.

Aaron Salazar is likely fourth on this list, but that has more to do with his reckless play at times. He is the only one in this group to be sent off in each of the last two seasons.

On talent and skill alone, the best pairing is Gamboa and Espinoza. You just worry if both are in good enough form.

Bernald Alfaro (Alajuelense)
Jefferson Brenes (Herediano)

Admittedly, it’s devastating to not see Christopher Nunez make this roster. He is one of the top attacking midfielders in Costa Rica and filled a need.

I would have taken him over Marvin Loria, but I digress.

Much like the fullbacks, there isn’t any depth in central midfield. If one of Bernald Alfaro or Jefferson Brenes goes down, there isn’t much you can turn to.

The two would form a natural partnership if the plan is to play a 4-2-3-1. Alfaro is a maestro in midfield. He will dictate tempo and possession, but is also a solid defender in transition. He won’t have difficulty covering space, nor stymying counterattacks.

Brenes can play the role as a double-6 if needed, but is better served as a box-to-box midfielder. He can smash the ball from deep and will always be a threat, even in a withdrawn position.

Marvin Loria (Portland Timbers)
Gerson Torres (Herediano)
Randall Leal (Nashville SC)
Alonso Martinez (Alajuelense)
Luis Diaz (Columbus Crew)
Jimmy Marin (Saprissa)

This position alone determines Costa Rica’s shape. There is just too much talent to not make it the focal point of the team. A 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 shape is the only option.

Randall Leal is the most talented of the bunch. Play him inverted on the left and don’t think twice about it. Luis Diaz is a solid contender to be his counterpart on the right, but Jimmy Marin is just as special, if not more dynamic on the ball.

The real question is who fills in as the 10?

Alonso Martinez largely plays wide for Alajuelense, but is always a bigger threat when he drifts centrally and allows his right-back to overlap in space. There’s a potential his future is as a withdrawn striker as opposed to an out-and-out winger.

Give him the keys to the Ferrari and enjoy the ride.

Manfred Ugalde (Lommel)
Jurguens Montenegro (Alajuelense)

Eighteen months ago, this was a debate. Eighteen months later, anyone who actually thought Jurguens Montenegro was better than Manfred Ugalde feels like a fucking moron.

Ugalde’s first European stint is going better than expected. He leads Lommel with 11 goals. Under contract with City Football Group, he will likely play on a bigger stage next season with NYCFC or Girona.

Don’t get me wrong, Montenegro is a servicable striker. He has a future with the senior team. The difference is, Ugalde would start for the senior team NOW, let alone the Olympic team.

Starting XI

My Starting XI

This is the best U23 team I have seen in my lifetime. I would not be surprised if 12-14 of these players play significant roles for Costa Rica in the 2026 World Cup. You can make the case for 4-6 to play a significant role if Costa Rica qualifies for 2022 in Qatar.

Get excited if you’re a Tico. This team is giving you every reason to.

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