Mission accomplished: Comforts of Rio Tinto Stadium help U.S. national soccer team secure easy, important win over Costa Rica
The United States won comfortably against Costa Rica, prevailing 4-0 as it improved to 5-0-1 all-time in Utah. It was the 10th straight victory over a CONCACAF opponent.
Utah is gripped with Jazz fever after the team’s Game 1 win over the L.A. Clippers on Tuesday, but on Wednesday for one night at least, Salt Lake City was a “soccer town” as the U.S. men’s national soccer team played before a near-capacity at Rio Tinto Stadium in a friendly against Costa Rica.
The United States won comfortably, prevailing 4-0 as it improved to 5-0-1 all-time in Utah. It was the 10th straight victory over a CONCACAF opponent.
The U.S. squad seems to cycle through Utah about once every four years, and Wednesday’s match certainly had a special feel in front of a pro-U.S. crowd that seemed to grow more boisterous as the match wore on.
“To come here to Salt Lake and play at Rio Tinto Stadium, and have a crowd that we had, was a great feeling,” said U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. “A lot of the guys haven’t been playing in front of crowds this season and to get a crowd like tonight, in a great stadium in a soccer town was just phenomenal. For us it’s great to be able to play in different places in the United States, and Utah, specifically Salt Lake, is always a great place for us to play.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Brenden Aaronson, who opened the scoring in the eighth minute.
“It brings a smile to my face,” said Aaronson. “It’s been so long since we’ve had fans. It just gives you that extra boost. They were electrifying out there. It was an amazing group they had here today.”
Daryl Dike scored his first international goal to push the lead to 2-0 by halftime, with Reggie Cannon and Gio Reyna scoring in the second half.
While the match itself was a friendly, and many fans were definitely disappointed not to get to see U.S. star Christian Pulisic on the field, for the U.S. coaching staff Wednesday’s match served a very specific purpose: to prepare the players for the upcoming condensed World Cup qualifying schedule.
“To come here to Salt Lake and play at Rio Tinto Stadium, and have a crowd that we had, was a great feeling.” — U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter
It was a national embarrassment back in October 2017 when the United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup begins on Sept. 2 and this most recent U.S. camp that ended on Wednesday night in Utah was the last opportunity for Berhalter to have a full complement of players at his disposal before September.
Many will still be part of the U.S. roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup from July 10 to Aug. 1, but it figures to be an MLS-heavy roster as Berhalter likely lets his European-based players focus on the preseason with their clubs.
Wednesday’s match was the fourth in 11 days for the United States, and it came on the heels of a dramatic overtime win over Mexico in Colorado on Sunday as it clinched the inaugural Nations League title.
Not all of the players who were featured in Sunday’s 120-minute match against Mexico played on Wednesday, but many did. Berhalter wanted to see what players could grind through the fatigue and motivate themselves for a friendly three nights after beating rival Mexico. The scenario was set up to simulate CONCACAF World Cup qualifying later this year, which usually involves three matches in a week — with two long plane rides.
“Being in tournament form, playing for stakes, playing for a trophy was really important, but it was even more important to turn around today and have a good performance,” said Berhalter. “We set out a goal to get nine points in this week and we did that, and I think it took a lot of mental fortitude, a lot of mental strength to get up the intensity we needed to win this game.
“What I realize it’s going to take a group to get this done, it’s not going to take 11 starters, we need the whole group and we showed that today.”
The intensity wasn’t what it will be in qualifying, but it was another small but important step as the U.S. looks to put the embarrassment of 2018 qualifying behind it in hopes of securing its spot for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18.