There has always been a very clear pecking order in CONCACAF women’s soccer. The United States are the dominant team, and lose infrequently to Canada and even more infrequently to Mexico. They are the only three teams to ever qualify for the World Cup from the continent, but in 2014 Costa Rica became the fourth.
With Canada sitting out the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship by virtue of having already qualified for the World Cup as hosts, it opened the door for a new team to sneak into the World Cup via a third-place finish. But Costa Rica said “fuck that,” winning their group by topping Mexico 1-0. Their semifinal against Trinidad & Tobago ended 1-1, and Costa Rica made their first three penalties while T&T missed their first three, to win. They went on to get trounced by the USWNT 6-0 in the finals, but they had already qualified.
Costa Rica are an incredibly young team. Their oldest player is 29, the median age is 24, and they even brought a 15-year-old to the tournament! Seriously, Gloriana Villalobos was born in August 1999, and she looks exactly like a 15-year-old with braces:
The relative youth of the team isn’t a coincidence, but rather the result of a deliberate decision by the Costa Rican Football Federation to build the women’s game from the bottom up. In the late 2000s they began to invest in women’s youth soccer, and in the last two years it has all paid off, with the country hosting the 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup and qualifying for the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup. Players like Gloriana Villalobos (who played in both of those tournaments) are the future of the team, so they might as well be the present.
Despite the relatively weak group they have qualified into, Costa Rica will be lucky to snatch a single point in their group. In preparation for the World Cup, the team jetted off to Croatia in March, to participate in the Istria Cup. There they lost to Ireland and Wales, while beating Bosnia and Herzegovina, none of whom came particularly close to qualifying for the World Cup. In the last two weeks they have played both Mexico and Colombia twice, and lost all four matches. But with their deliberate approach to growth, in the near future they will be challenging the CONCACAF heavyweights.
Goalkeepers: Dinnia Díaz (UD Moravia), Noelia Bermúdez (Deportivo Saprissa), Yirlania Arroyo (Sky Blue FC)
Defenders: Gabriela Guillén (Deportivo Saprissa), Emilie Valenciano (L.D. Alajuelense), Mariana Benavides (C.S. Herediano), Diana Sáenz (Univ. of South Florida), Carol Sánchez (UD Moravia), Daniela Cruz (Deportivo Saprissa), Lixy Rodríguez (L.D. Alajuelense), Fabiola Sánchez (Martin Methodist Redhawks), María Coto (L.D. Alajuelense)
Midfielders: Shirley Cruz Traña (Paris Saint-Germain), Cristin Granados (Deportivo Saprissa), Katherine Alvarado (Deportivo Saprissa), Gloriana Villalobos (Deportivo Saprissa)
Forwards: Melissa Herrera (Deportivo Saprissa), Adriana Venegas (Deportivo Saprissa), Raquel Rodríguez (Pennsylvania State Univ.), María Barrantes (UD Moravia), Karla Villalobos (C.S. Herediano), Wendy Acosta (UD Moravia), Adriana Venegas (C.S. Herediano)
Las Ticas (The Ticos)
FIFA World Ranking
Costa Rica is somewhat of an anomaly among teams of its caliber in that they have one of the game’s true superstars: Shirley Cruz. Cruz plays as a deep-lying playmaker for PSG, and has long been one of the best players in France. She will be relied upon to jumpstart the attack, along with fellow midfielders Katherine Alvarado. In some combination in front of those two—they have played a 4-3-3 in all warm-up games, but have experimented with the midfielders in both a pyramid and inverted pyramid formation—will probably be Wendy Acosta, Melissa Herrera, Raquel Rodríguez (who plays for Penn State, and Carolina Venegas, who scored this great goal against Martinique:
Costa Rica is a well-organized squad that will press opponents, with Shirley Cruz being particularly good at this. After winning the ball back they will look to move it forward with quick passes on the ground. When they are given time—which won’t be often against higher-level competition than they are used to—they play quite attractive soccer.
June 9, 4 p.m.: Spain vs. Costa Rica at Olympic Stadium
June 13, 7 p.m.: South Korea vs. Costa Rica at Olympic Stadium
June 17, 7 p.m.: Costa Rica vs. Brazil at Moncton Stadium
All Times Eastern
Photo Credit: Getty Images