Crew defenders Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis are set to represent their county, Costa Rica, at the 2014 FIFA World Cup next week. As a final tune-up before the flight to Brazil, the Black & Gold duo and their teammates took to the PPL Park pitch to clash with Robbie Keane and Ireland, a match that ended in a 1-1 draw in Philadelphia on Friday night.
Although Gonzalez was sent off just before halftime after an altercation with Kevin Doyle, it’s clear that the centerback will be an integral part of coach Jorge Luis Pinto’s plans in Brazil.
The Ticos play a five-man backline that often resembles a three-man unit when the fullbacks push up, and Gonzalez manned the sweeper role in that formation tonight. That places a lot of pressure on “Pipo” as the heart and soul of the backline, a challenge that he is ready to embrace.
“I have the confidence from the technical staff, and I’m proud of that,” said Gonzalez. “I’m happy with it and I want to maintain it. I’m proud to wear the colors of my country in the World Cup.”
Beyond defensive roles, Pinto has gotten creative with Gonzalez’ height, using his six-foot-frame on set pieces and special set plays. Right off of the opening kick, Gonzalez streaked forward like a striker, where a longball was sent in his direction, and on a later free kick from mid-distance, the Crew defender was utilized in the box as a target player.
Something else to watch for in Brazil is the usage of Waylon Francis, who is the youngest defender in the Costa Rica squad. Although he didn’t make an appearance tonight, Pinto intended to get him in the match but adjusted his plans due to the Irish longball tactics, which the Costa Rica coach said didn’t fit Francis’ defensive style. Still, Pinto believes in Francis’ potential, and the Crew defender is excited to represent his country this summer as well.
“It’s very important for me [to make the team] knowing that I’ve tried to do everything well. It’s great that [Pinto] gave me the opportunity,” said Francis.
As for the red card in this match, it occurred when Gonzalez made contact with Kevin Doyle’s forehead while leaping for an aerial ball. Pinto said that he had a chat with the Crew defender after the match about the play, and Gonzalez was candid in speaking about it.
“I went very hard on the play, and it was a yellow card. I agree with that. When the referee saw the blood, he showed me the red card. I’m happy that it happened today and not during the World Cup.”
So are the Ticos, who will look to lean on Gonzalez in their backline while nurturing Francis, two players that Crew fans should be proud are set to represent both Costa Rica and Columbus in Brazil.