Crew centerback Giancarlo Gonzalez has drawn rave reviews for his play as the anchor of Costa Rica's defense at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Most notably, the defender was named to ESPNFC's Best XI from the Group Stage. That nomination even occurred before perhaps Gonzalez's best individual match of the tournament in the penalty shootout victory over Greece, where "Pipo" played all 120 minutes (including one full-field sprint in the waning moments of the match to help break up a Greek five-on-two) and even slotted a spot kick in the shootout.
The praise simply hasn't stopped. Gonzalez was named to The Guardian's "10 emerging players who have lit up the tournament" list. His face adorns a new banner on Crew Stadium. Costa Rica flags have popped up in the Nordecke. It's Pipo Mania in Columbus – and it's completely deserved.
Consider the gauntlet which the Ticos emerged from in winning their group. Finishing tops among the likes of Italy, Uruguay and England is impressive enough on its own, but Gonzalez and Costa Rica did so while allowing zero goals from the run of play. Pipo played all 270 minutes of the group stage, which included 90 minutes against Edinson Cavani, Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo and Daniel Sturridge, in addition to 60 minutes of Diego Forlan and 14 minutes of Wayne Rooney. Save for a penalty by Cavani, the Ticos were unflappable in defense.
That continued on to the Round of 16, where a late Greek equalizer against a 10-man side was the first goal scored from the run of play against Costa Rica, but still not enough to set them out of the tournament. Now, Gonzalez and the Ticos are set to face a dangerous Netherlands side in the next huge chance on the big stage for the Crew centerback and his teammates.
The fact is, Gonzalez has performed like one of the best defenders in the world over the course of this tournament, and FIFA metrics back that case up.
At the heart of the Ticos' five-man backline, Gonzalez has blocked five shots in this tournament. That's tied for sixth in the entire FIFA World Cup and second among players whose teams are still alive in the tournament, which is key in this instance because it stands to reason that better teams concede fewer shots. When called upon, Gonzalez has gotten the job done.
Pipo also is tied for 12th in the tournament in recovered balls, with 27. And remember that full-field sprint against Greece? That was just a small sliver of the 25.7 miles that Gonzalez has ran over Costa Rica's four matches, an average of 6.4 per contest. Only four central defenders have covered more ground than Pipo, who ranks 38th out of all players in the statistic, impressive enough because you often think of box-to-box midfielders, pressing fullbacks or high work-rate strikers as the players covering the most ground.
This might be the most impressive aspect of Pipo's tournament, however: of the 25.7 miles, 10.3 have come with Costa Rica not in possession of the ball. That total ties Pipo for the lead among all central defenders, and it also ranks him 11th in the whole tournament. Simply put, no centerback has done more in terms of hustling for position to properly defend without the ball.
There's also the Castrol Index, which is a catch-all numerical rating system that FIFA says measures every pass, tackle and move on the field, assessing them to see if they have a positive or negative impact on a team's ability to score or concede a goal. By this metric, Gonzalez has been the 18th best central defender in the entire tournament, which doesn't sound too impressive until you consider the names he ranks ahead of: Sergio Ramos, Per Mertesacker, Gary Cahill and Giorgio Chiellini, just to name a few.