When Brazil was preparing to take on Argentina in the Copa América final, it was widely acknowledged that while many Brazilians were tacitly supporting the Seleção, they’d also partially warmed to the idea of Lionel Messi finally reaping from what he’d painstakingly sown over the last 16 years with the Albiceleste — so much so that Neymar felt compelled to issue a stinging rebuke on Instagram that told those Brazilians to “go to hell.”
But the world got what it wanted, and it felt so, so good.
Now we’ve arrived at the Gold Cup and — maybe this is the natural outcome of a hellish year: the eye is now more drawn to the feel-good, emergent stories rather than the status quo that was established pre-Covid — it’s difficult to not root for the underdog.
Yes, we want the United States to play well. We want Gregg Berhalter to succeed, veterans like Kellyn Acosta and Sebastian Lletget to get the respect they deserve and young players like Daryl Dike and Gianluca Busio to have their moments. But this is a B-Team with clear limitations.
And yes, we want Mexico to entertain. Even without the injured Chucky Lozano, only a fool would neglect to watch Jesús Corona and Héctor Herrera do their thing. But Mexico is the defending champion, and after 15 editions of the Gold Cup with only one winner besides Mexico and the USMNT (Canada in 2000), it’d be to fun to see another nation lift the outlandishly large Cup.
There are true challengers. Canada lost Alphonso Davies to injury, but Cyle Larin is fresh off a 23-goal season with Beşiktaş. Jamaica is the tournament’s most interesting team with Bayer Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey, Fulham’s Bobby Reid, Watford’s Andre Gray, Charleroi’s Shamar Nicholson and Reading’s Liam Moore all coming together. Honduras has Jerry Bengtson.
But if there’s one side that provides all the feels, it’s the one that we’ve lived multiple lives with: Costa Rica.
The philosopher Alan Watts once said that there is no joy in continuity or the perpetual, but Alan Watts didn’t spend a lot of time watching this Costa Rica team.
Over the last eight years you’ve probably experienced a lot of changes: friends drifting out of contact, different jobs, moving to new locations, but one thing remains the same: Los Ticos.
At the Gold Cup, Costa Rica is fielding six members of its 2014 World Cup squad: Celso Borges, Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, Giancarlo González, Óscar Duarte and Yeltsin Tejeda. That’s like the U.S. approaching this tournament with Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman.
The world often frets over where we’ll be when Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi finally retire, but what about the CONCACAF Kaká, 35-year-old Bryan Ruiz? And Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell — who will terrorize the region’s left backs when he’s gone?
And then Costa Rica has a host of other players who’ve become familiar at Gold Cups, the 2018 World Cup or in MLS, like Johan Venegas, Bryan Oviedo, Francisco Calvo, David Guzmán and Kendall Waston.
There’s no one in this squad that you’d feel uncomfortable with having over for the holidays. They’re family at this point.
On Monday night in Costa Rica’s opening match against Guadeloupe, it was Campbell who opened the scoring (off a horrendous goalkeeper error) before setting up Houston’s Ariel Lassiter for the second.
It all counts the same, right? Joel Campbell knocks it in for an early lead over Guadeloupe pic.twitter.com/uwXB3Ut9BU— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 13, 2021
Ariel Lassiter scores his first goal for Los Ticos!Costa Rica goes up 2-0 pic.twitter.com/wz61PqL4sM
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 13, 2021
Guadeloupe pulled one back before halftime (it’s unfortunate that Keylor Navas is out with a shoulder injury), but Costa Rica’s third goal was a thing of beauty.
The cross was provided by 22-year-old Columbus midfielder Luis Díaz (a key part of the Crew’s 2020 MLS Cup title) but hammered home by the 33-year-old Borges. This is old man strength.
Borges scores in the 70th minute for Los Ticos!Costa Rica goes up 3-1 pic.twitter.com/NYYJL4nPPK
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 13, 2021
They’re beginning to believe.
Next up is Suriname on Friday, July 16, and then it’s a big one against Jamaica on Tuesday, July 20, to end group play.