The United States has one last tune-up before heading to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics. Tonight’s game against Costa Rica won’t necessarily represent a high-pressure test, but they have proven to be a difficult opponent to break down in the past. In last summer’s World Cup, they held heavily favored Spain to a 1-1 draw while only falling to Brazil 1-0. In Olympic qualifying, the USWNT did thump them 5-0, but the key to that game was Alex Morgan’s goal inside the first minute. Costa Rica was left reeling, and the US had effectively finished the game off by scoring two more goals by the 15th minute.
Perhaps the other games from that same tournament are an indicator of where the Costa Rican team is at. They were able to recover from their US loss to beat Puerto Rico 9-0, and then showed their very best soccer in upsetting Mexico 2-1 to go on to the semifinal round. There, Costa Rica gave Canada a real game, briefly pulling within a goal in the second half before getting caught with numbers forward and conceding late in a 3-1 defeat that saw the Canadians qualify for the Olympics.
Costa Rica’s squad is mostly based in their domestic league, but two players based abroad are the key to coach Amelia Valverde’s plans. Sky Blue FC midfielder Raquel Rodriguez has had a very good rookie season in the NWSL, and she’ll probably be used as a target forward tonight. The goal will be for Rodriguez to hold up play for Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Shirley Cruz, Costa Rica’s creative hub. If the USWNT can make it hard for those two to connect, they should have little trouble on the defensive side.
At the other end, it will be interesting to see how Jill Ellis approaches this game. Carli Lloyd will be looking to build more match fitness after missing virtually all of the NWSL season with a knee sprain, and there is still likely to be intense competition up front. The wide forward roles are still up for grabs, with almost a third of the roster - Crystal Dunn, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe, and Mallory Pugh - all potentially vying for starts on either side of Morgan up top.
Location: Children’s Mercy Park (Kansas City, KS)
Kick-off time: 9:00pm Eastern
Available TV: ESPN (English), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: WatchESPN (English), Univision Deportes app (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Treat this as the gamethread for tonight's match.