On their last stop before the United States Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) Road to Rio takes them to Brazil, the team will take on the Costa Rican Women’s National Team on Friday, July 22 in Kansas City, Kan, at 9 p.m. EST.
The international friendly is the team’s final Olympic send-off match and is the only non-tournament match to feature the official 2016 Olympic roster for the United States.
The USWNT’s last match was a 1-0 victory over South Africa on July 2 in the U.S.’s first Olympic send-off match. Forward Crystal Dunn scored the lone goal of the match in the 35th minute when Mallory Pugh split a pair of defenders with a pass to a wide-open Dunn, who easily tapped the ball into the back of the net for the gamewinner.
Many fans were surprised to see a team of South Africa’s caliber hold the U.S. to such a low score line, but South Africa was heavy on pressure and strong on defense, proving to be a solid test for the USWNT before departing for the Olympics. Captain Janine Van Wyk, center back, was especially quick to deny the USWNT of many opportunities on goal, earning her a legion of new fans eager for her to be picked up by a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team in the future.
Costa Rica is a higher-ranking team than South Africa (29th compared to 52nd), but may not be as good of a test for the U.S. since they have never tied or beaten the U.S. in all of the team’s meetings. It will be interesting to see if their head coach, Amelia Valverde, will borrow South Africa's tactics to use against the USWNT or will stick to Las Ticas' usual style of play.
The U.S. and Costa Rica have previously met three times in the past 12 months. Costa Rica was the USWNT’s opponent for the August leg of their 2015 Women’s World Cup Victory Tour and was the team's first opponent in the 2016 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament. The USWNT holds a 13-0-0 record over Costa Rica and has only allowed two goals in the teams’ history, both of which were scored in the August 19 Victory Tour match in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Although Costa Rica qualified for their first ever Women’s World Cup last year, they failed to qualify for the Olympics this year after falling to Canada in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament back in February.
Costa Rica will have their one NWSL player, Sky Blue FC midfielder Raquel Rodriguez, for Friday’s match. At just 22 years of age, Rodriguez has proven herself to be a player to watch, both at the club and international levels. Rodriguez, known as "Rocky" to many fans, has been a staple in Costa Rica’s attack for the past few years and scored the team's first ever goal in a Women’s World Cup in last summer's match against Spain. At forward, Rodriguez could be going head-to-head against her Sky Blue teammate Kelley O'Hara, who has earned the starting right back spot for the USWNT. If so, that should be an entertaining match up for fans of Sky Blue and the NWSL alike.
Last week Jill Ellis, head coach of the USWNT, named the 18 players and four alternates that will be traveling to Rio for the 2016 Olympics. Those 22 players are the same ones Ellis will be taking with her to Kansas City, although it is likely that only the 18 rostered players will dress for the match.
Ellis’s roster came with few surprises to most fans. The biggest question mark was whether Megan Rapinoe, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during training with the national team back in December, would be recovered enough to make the roster. In Ellis’s opinion she had, and Rapinoe was given a ticket to Rio despite not having played a match for the national team or her club, Seattle Reign FC, since October.
The two other question marks were the third center back and defensive midfielder positions. Co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston were locks in the center back position, but it was a toss-up between Whitney Engen, a member of the Women’s World Cup-winning team last year, and rookie Emily Sonnett for the third spot. Ellis went with experience, and Engen was given the last defensive roster spot.
The No. 6 position was between Samantha Mewis and Allie Long, two players who had previously played with the USWNT before being called back up post-World Cup. Mewis was called up in October during the Victory Tour while Long was called up in April. Although Mewis had been with the team longer, Long made an immediate impact in her first start against Colombia, and it is hard to deny the chemistry she has with fellow Portland Thorn Tobin Heath and former Thorn Alex Morgan on the field. That chemistry may have just been the edge Long needed to not only get an Olympic roster spot, but likely a spot in the starting lineup as well.
With this being the last match before the team travels to Brazil, fans should expect to see the starting XI and the style of play that will be used in Rio. Before the first Olympic send-off match against South Africa, goalkeeper Hope Solo, who tallied the 100th shutout of her international career that match, gave some insight into what fans can expect from the USWNT in Friday night’s match and in the Summer Games.
"We’re going to be a possession oriented-style team. We’re going to have a variety in the attack," Solo said. "It’s not going to be direct, it’s not going to be only scoring on crosses. I think you’re going to see a little bit of everything."
With six substitutions being allowed in an international friendly, all bench players with the exception of backup goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher could see time in the second half as well. This includes Megan Rapinoe, who Jill Ellis will likely play the same way she has said she will in Rio: as a 30-minute-or-less sub.
The USWNT take on Costa Rica on Friday, July 22, at 9 p.m. EST at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The game will be aired on ESPN and streamed live on espn.go.com.
United States Women’s National Team Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (2): Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (6): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)
ALTERNATES (4): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
HEAD COACH: Jill Ellis
Costa Rica Women’s National Team Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (2): Noelia Burmúdez (Levante U.D.), Dinnia Díaz (A.D. Moravia)
DEFENDERS (6): Carolina Angulo (Saprissa F.F.), Mariana Benavides (A.D. Moravia), Lixy Rodriguez (Libre), Diana Sáenz (A.D. Moravia), Fabiola Sánchez (Methodist College), Fabiola Villalobos (Saprissa F.F.)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Katherine Alvarado (Saprissa F.F.), Shirley Cruz (Paris Saint-Germain), María Paula Elizondo (Saprissa F.F.), Cristin Granados (Saprissa F.F.), Melissa Herrera (A.D. Moravia), Gloriana Villalobos (Saprissa F.F.), Karla Villalobos (A.D. Moravia)
FORWARDS (3): Fernanda Barrantes (A.D. Moravia), Raquel Rodriguez (Sky Blue FC), Carolina Venegas (Libre)
Head Coach: Amelia Valverde