Tacos & Ticos
The alarm buzzes and I stumble down stairs. The aroma of the brewing coffee is outdone only by the howling wind and driving rain. I start to hope that the soccer gods have a pinch of mercy on us since the A.O. Modesto tailgating crew had worked its magic once again preparing to serve our world famous tacos. Piping hot coffee, check. Rain gear, check. Tempered enthusiasm on what I might see on the pitch, double check! The travel over to Avaya stadium told me one thing, only the great American eagle could fly in this weather. The winds pushed my truck all over the Altamont Pass. The rains only goal was to wash away the pain of World Cup-less 2018. Slow and steady would get me there. Little did I know, that would be the theme of the game. Gusts of offensive pressure in the first half, leading to the dam breaking on the Costa Rican defense in the second. The rains subsided and the winds calmed enough for The American Outlaws to set up their tent city. Before we knew it, the sun broke through, the rains stopped and the tacos were flying! The Outlaw enthusiasm drummed throughout the tailgate to the comfortable melody of “Blow the Whistle.” What a wonderful atmosphere. The game seemed to start out as the prototypical USMNT match. Clunky play out of the back, even clunkier passing. Pass back to the keeper and a long pass resulting in the opposition gaining easy possession in the middle of the field. I’ve seen this movie before. Oh boy, here we go. Not exactly what I was hoping to see out of the second episode of the youth movement. Two things seemed to carry over from the Panama game; Zimmerman’s ability to claim his space and not be pushed around on the back line, and Zack Steffen’s showcase of physical agility. Steffen is quite comfortable between the posts. These two were definitely poised to continue this play. The Costa Rican offense found runs at the American goal early and often. But the interior backers kept the island nation’s assault at bay. Momentum was palpable in the second half. The Yank’s midfield held meaningful possession for longer stretches. The Costa Ricans looked more hair-on-fire with their passes than dangerous counter attackers. Super-sub Lletget came on the field in the 63rd minute and he settled in nicely. Seventeen minutes later Llegett heads in a beautiful touch cross by Lewis’ toe flick from the left side! Holy Mount Rushmore, that’s a new wrinkle!! Before we could digest that nice set of touches, Lleget reminded us that the hour glass wasn’t out of sand. In the 88th minute he pokes a perfectly weighted ball through to Arriola. Arriola speeds to the ball and gets just enough of the ball with the tip of his boot to get over the outstretched body of the Los Ticos Keeper!! Arriola goes flying, beer goes flying, and so does any hope of the visiting Costa Rican squad of getting back in this early friendly. What few noticeable differences throughout this game that were a break from the mold of national teams of yester-year, you ask? Hustle plays, Arriola’s effort to win a loss of possession in the 10th minute was a glaring difference. Nick Lima’s Mighty Mouse-ian effort on the right edge was eye popping. This MLS and Bay Area native local lacked size against most players on the pitch but actually won the air battle. I saw him anticipate and get position on most balls in the air. He had a relentless motor and natural feel for the ball at his feet. His instinctual play led to quick transitional counter attacks and helped the team build their second half moment. All things considered, I am well aware that this was a collection of B team level players on both sides. But I think one thing definitely rang loud, if this group of youngsters develops a positive cohesion with the elite senior squad in March…..the future is brighter than the rainbow that cascaded the eastern landscape. My eyes are narrow with venomous anticipation.