Being drawn into the Group of Death – again – didn’t do the United States any favors in the Copa America. Obviously. Colombia and Costa Rica are obviously the two deadliest opponents but Paraguay are no pushovers either. This is South America after all. There aren’t many weaknesses.
But this public service announcement pertains to the Ticos. Costa Rica absolutely captured the soccer world’s heart in the 2014 World Cup. Improbably qualifying from their group, the Ticos made a run for the ages before being knocked out in the quarter-finals in a shoot-out to the Netherlands. It was a bit of a heart-breaker.
The Copa America Centenario gives Costa Rica another chance to shine and they will be welcoming back venerable striker Alvaro Saborio of DC United. Most of Costa Rica’s representation calls MLS home, but there is one man that is suiting up in the Premier League at Arsenal and that man is who should give the USMNT frightful fits of fear.
That man is Joel Campbell. Campbell, as the Ticos starting forward, scored a goal at the World Cup in 2014. Two years later, he has only gotten better. Anyone who had the privilege of watching Campbell play for Arsenal this year had to appreciate several things. First of all – he is at the Premier League level. His work ethic had never been up for question and his raw ability was easy to see.
But this year, against the best players Europe has to offer, Joel Campbell proved that he can compete with the best. He scored in his Premier League debut, went on to force Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, two established names, to the bench. That is no easy feat for someone starting from scratch at a team that rewards loyalty like Arsenal.
That is one reason for the USMNT to be afraid of Campbell. But that is not the main reason. The main reason is that Campbell is going to be wound up.
All of what I said he did this year is true. He was a stud and deserved all the praise he never got. But despite it all, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger still pushed him to the shadows and never gave him the starting spot he deserved. The frustration from Campbell’s situation had to be incredibly tough to deal with. The lad just wants to play, he earned the right to play, but he was denied the chance to play.
In the Copa America Centenario, playing for his home country, who have never given him cause to fret, Campbell is going to be even more fierce than usual. He is going to want to play hard enough to make up for all the matches he was robbed of in England.
The USMNT has a strong defense, but Campbell’s dribbling ability could cause them fits. He is also unpredictable, something that so few players out there are.