The United States women’s national team will play its final game before setting off for Rio to attempt to win a fourth successive Olympic gold medal when taking on Costa Rica in Kansas City on Friday. While the team defeated South Africa 1-0 earlier this month, the contest with its Concacaf rivals will be the first since coach Jill Ellis named her 18-woman roster to head to the Olympics, which get underway for the U.S. against New Zealand on Aug. 3.
That means it will be the first chance for the selected Megan Rapinoe to get some precious minutes under her belt before the real competition gets underway. The creative midfielder has not played since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee last December, but mounted an impressive rehabilitation in order to convince Ellis that she could make a valuable contribution in Rio.
“I knew she would be in with a shot in terms of the timing of it,” Ellis told U.S. Soccer when announcing her squad last week. “I know she had excellent care in Seattle and we kept very close tabs on where she was and where she was progressing
“I think what came down to Megan was: is Megan going to be able to come in and play 90 minutes every game? No. She is going to bring experience and able to help us in certain moments, whether it’s starting or finishing, and her experience in the locker rooms; there is so many add-ons when selecting Megan that if she was truly ready, which we saw that she was, she’s a massive bonus for us going into Brazil.”
The contest with Costa Rica will also be important for the player who Rapinoe assisted for the winner in the gold medal match four years ago, Carli Lloyd. Now the captain of the side, the 34-year-old has played just 45 minutes since returning from 10 weeks out with her own knee injury earlier this month.
At the other end of the experience scale to Lloyd, who has been a part of the last two gold-medal winning teams, there is Mallory Pugh. The 18-year-old has been a revelation since coming in the team at the start of 2016 and will look for an opportunity on Friday to force her way into Ellis' starting XI. The lineup for the match could also reveal something about Ellis’ tactical plan, in particular whether it will be a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 system deployed.
The U.S. has won all 13 of its previous games against Costa Rica, triumphing 5-0 when the teams last met in qualification for the Olympics in February as well as 8-0 and 7-2 on the World Cup Victory Tour last year.
Having qualified for the Women’s World Cup for the first time last year, Costa Rica failed to make it to the Olympics after falling to Canada in the semifinals of the Concacaf qualifying competition.
If it is to have a chance of getting a positive result against the U.S. for the first time, Las Ticas is likely to need standout performances from Shirley Cruz and Raquel Raquel Rodriguez.
Midfielder Cruz is Costa Rica's most-capped player and captain and performs for leading French side Paris Saint-Germain, where she was previously a teammate of U.S. midfielder Lindsey Horan. The 30-year-old also came runner-up to U.S. legend Abby Wambach in the voting for Concacaf Women's Player of the Year in 2014. Cruz, meanwhile was awarded the Hermann Trophy last year as college soccer's top player while at Penn State before moving into the professional ranks with Sky Blue FC.
Kickoff Time: 9 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Update (2 p.m. EDT): Megan Rapinoe won't feature against Costa Rica, with the U.S. coaching staff continuing to apply caution to her recovery.