Brazil 2014: CONCACAF Corner
OTF Soccer’s World Cup coverage isn’t all USMNT. Austin Fido brings you an update on the rest of CONCACAF’s Brasil-bound squads…
The CONCACAF Champions League wandered back into the public consciousness with a live-streamed group stage draw most remarkable for the absence of any flagrant misunderstandings of its own rules, as temporarily enlivened proceedings last year.
But we’ll turn attention to CCL in a few weeks, when the schedule is set, and the teams involved are more certain of the squads they’ll be bringing into the tournament. In the meantime, there is a little competition about to kick off in Brazil, and it involves a healthy number of CONCACAF teams.
For those not obsessively checking the daily reports of friendlies and training camp incidents, here is OTF Soccer’s CONCACAF corner: an occasional summary of the affairs of our region’s representatives in soccer’s biggest tournament.
Here’s how they’ve been getting on in the first week or so since FIFA lifted the playing embargo on World Cup squads.
It’s not looking great for a Costa Rican squad that lost a big name to injury before the 30-man squad was named (Bryan Oviedo), and just lost a bigger one – Alvaro Saborio – as it finally appeared the team was settling down to focus on the tournament.
Los Ticos have yet to play any friendlies (their first is June 2, the day 23-man rosters must be finalized, against Japan) and the early days of training camp were dominated by distractions.
Defender Cristian Gamboa was coaxed into training, as he recovers from an injury which may yet keep him out of the final 23 (because any player who is scarcely fit at the start of training camp must surely be a questionable selection for the tournament). Celso Borges and Joel Campbell have been dealing with minor knocks.
Bryan Ruiz got married about a week ago; Christian Bolanos, Oscar Duarte and Keylor Navas were late arrivals to camp; and Alvaro Saborio had to step away for the birth of his first child.
Now Sabo is out. He is the third-highest goal scorer in Costa Rica’s national team history. Recently, he’s not been a starter for Los Ticos, but he remained an important option off the bench.
Saborio’s injury would appear to leave Costa Rica without much of a plan B, since there aren’t many forwards of his size and playing style in the national team player pool. Right now, however, Jorge Luis Pinto must simply be hoping to reach June 14, and his team’s opening group stage game against Uruguay, without any further injury problems.
EDIT: Pinto has named his 23-man squad.
The first World Cup warm-up is a gimme, right? Let’s hope so, for Los Catrachos‘ sake.
They took on Turkey in DC on May 29, and the game followed a script many are anticipating will be commonly played out in Brazil: the team with the most energy left at the end won the match.
The problem for Honduras: it was the team that faded badly as the game went on. As a one-off result, losing 2-0 to Turkey is not a big deal, but if the losses persist, the notion that Los Catrachos can get out of their group in Brazil by outfighting and outlasting higher-quality opponents (on paper) will be hard to sustain.
Yes, Turkey can reasonably be expected to be better than Honduras on most days. But this was not a full strength Turkish side, and we can be confident Ecuador, France and Switzerland won’t be treating Brazil as a chance to have a look at some fringe players.
Coach Luis Fernando Suarez is also facing some difficult decisions regarding the fitness of three players in the camp: Oscar Boniek Garcia, Arnold Peralta and Luis Garrido were all held out of the match-day squad for the Turkey game. Eder Delgado has been called up as a potential replacement should the 23 men in camp be reduced to 22.
Los Catrachos have two further friendlies, against Israel (6/1) and England (6/7) to work out who can be relied upon to fit for Brazil. On the evidence of the first warm-up match, the coach also needs to work out who can be relied upon to keep up with game for 90 minutes.
Finally, a CONCACAF squad that isn’t looking out of sorts in its World Cup preparations. El Tri‘s first friendly of its three-game warm-up series was a Mexico City send-off against Israel (Mexico will play its remaining friendlies in the US).
All went pretty much according to plan: a comfortable 3-0 win over makeweight opposition is exactly what you want to see when your team is easing its way into tournament form.
The decision to treat the match as a testimonial for El Tri legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco had some pundits scratching heads and pontificating about the perceived lack of sense in allowing a 41-year-old has-been to mix it with the nation’s best 23.
To this observer, it was a canny move by Miguel Herrera. The first order of any World Cup training camp is team-building. Herrera was decisive in naming a 23-man squad from the get-go, indicating he didn’t want to waste time giving false hope.
His initial work seems solidly focusing on getting the squad to bond. First, he has thrown them some adversity – no sex or beef for the chosen 23. The Blanco match offered the team the chance for the players to share a happier memory of their World Cup campaign.
Blanco’s presence on the pitch for 39 minutes in a friendly is neither going to ruin or boost El Tri’s chances in Brazil, but whatever words he shared with the squad may prove invaluable.
Also, given the somewhat fickle nature of Azteca crowds, it was perhaps helpful to have Blanco around to take the pressure off the team as it found its way in the early stages of this game. Once he was subbed out, the goals started flowing for El Tri, and everyone got the celebratory send off they were hoping for.
It hasn’t been all fun and games for El Tri. Juan Carlos Medina’s injury forced Herrera to make an adjustment to his 23 – Miguel Ponce has taken his place.
And in the game against Israel, starting ‘keeper Jesus Corona was clobbered by Maza Rodriguez. A blow to the head is always a concern, and post-match pictures of Corona in a neck brace were not encouraging. But the word is he’s not seriously hurt, and will sit out the team’s next match against Ecuador as part of a longstanding plan to rotate the ‘keepers during the warm-up series.
That game (5/31) and the final warm-up against Bosnia-Herzegovina (6/3) will tell us a lot more about El Tri‘s likely competitiveness in Brazil than the farewell fiesta at Azteca.
Keep an eye out for our continuing USMNT coverage: analysis, insight, and fluff – all in good measure.
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Austin Fido is OTF’s CONCACAF and USMNT editor. He hasn’t read as much Hemingway as he ought to – send reading recommendations to @canetop.