When Costa Rica traveled to Russia in the fall of 2016 for an international friendly, it was a chance to gain comfort in the surroundings for a possible journey to the 2018 World Cup.
It was also a moment for a pair of future club teammates to become acquainted. New York City FC wingers Rodney Wallace and Ronald Matarrita have now developed a close friendship.
“From that friendly, that’s when we first met each other,” Wallace said. “We felt very comfortable with each other right away.”
Said Matarrita: “We became friends then and then things worked out that we were at the same club. And that’s when we got really close.”
Wallace and Matarrita have been selected to the 23-player squad that will represent Costa Rica in Russia this summer.
Due to injuries and coaches’ selections, the two wingers have played together in just eight of the 12 NYCFC matches this season.
In five of his appearances, Matarrita’s contributions were brief – a total of 17 minutes. He’d suffered through back-to-back injuries – a hamstring pull during a match and an ankle issue during training.
“It was difficult,” Matarrita said. “When I got injured, I finally worked back and got into it and got injured again. That’s when it affects you mentally.”
“When things go wrong, he feels like it’s the end of the world,” Wallace said. “To see him go down with injury after injury, it takes a toll. As a friend, I can make sure his mind’s right, his attitude is correct and he stays positive – and tell him everything’s going to turn out the way it should.”
Saturday, Matarrita was awarded his third start of the season. His alert, headed goal six minutes into the second half helped seal a 4-0 victory over Colorado. His celebration included a sprint to the sideline for an extended hug with Wallace.
“He’s always been supportive of me through my injuries, so he is the first person I thought of to go celebrate with,” Matarrita said after scoring his second career goal. “He’s with me at my lowest and at my highest.
“I was happy with the week I had. I got called up to the World Cup and I scored a goal.”
Hi friend was happy for him, too.
“He put in many hours to get that goal,” Wallace said. “I know how much that meant for him.”
Matarrita was on a plane returning from Los Angeles after the 2-2 draw with LAFC when the Ticos’ final roster was announced. Wallace had stayed behind to film a commercial, and he learned the news live.
“I was trying to get a hold of him, but the message wouldn’t go through,” Wallace said. “I’m sure when he landed his phone literally exploded.”
Matarrita puffed a sigh in agreement.
“When I landed I got all the messages,” Matarrita said. “It was pure happiness to be called up.”
Wallace and Matarrita will be available for coach Patrick Vieira and NYCFC in Houston on Friday night before joining their compatriots in preparation for the World Cup. Costa Rica opens with Serbia June 17, followed by group matches against Switzerland and Brazil.
“He’s a loyal friend and to be in this journey together it’s amazing with all the things we’ve gone through,” Wallace said. “The qualifiers, all the things here in New York. To be on a list together it’s amazing.”