NEW YORK — Are you a Major League Soccer fan still looking for a team to support at the FIFA World Cup?
Costa Rica should be the best pick, according to ESPN commentator Sebastian Salazar.
“I think Costa Rica is the best example of a national team program that has benefitted from MLS,” said Salazar, who moderated an ESPN media roundtable discussion in midtown Manhattan Thursday. “Costa Rica specially does speak to the quality of MLS because that is a program that has really seen its level come up as more and more players come into the league.”
There are six players on the Costa Rican World Cup roster who currently ply their trade in MLS — the NYCFC duo of Ronald Matarrita and Rodney Wallace, Minnesota United FC defender Francisco Calvo, Portland Timbers midfielder David Guzman, LAFC forward Marco Urena and Vancouver Whitecaps FC defender Kendall Waston.
On the dais was Herculez Gomez, the former U.S. national team player, Mario Kempes, who won the World Cup with Argentina in 1978, former Mexican national team standouts Hugo Sanchez and Tato Noriega and Shaka Hislop, who was the goalkeeper for Trinidad & Tobago’s only World Cup appearance in 2006.
Gomez believes Waston is a player who could benefit most from a strong appearance in Russia next month.
“I think he’s a player who is destined for bigger and greater things,” Gomez said. “The Vancouver Whitecaps jersey is too small for him. I think this is a guy who after the World Cup we’re going to see in a big league.”
Gomez said he’s also looking forward to watching Matarrita and Urena, a player who Gomez said “has everything but the goal. He’s just lacking that killer instinct in front of goal, but has all these different intangibles to go on a bigger league.”
In a similar situation four years ago was Keylor Navas, the Ticos goalkeeper who moved to Real Madrid after helping lead Costa Rica to the quarterfinals in Brazil.
In fact, Gomez is pegging Costa Rica as his “dark horse” in Russia.
“This team, to me, is a well-coached, defensively-organized counterattacking team, and those teams do well in tournament settings,” he said.
While Liga MX has 17 players who will compete in the World Cup, that number increases to 23 for MLS-based players on provisional rosters.
“It speaks to the growth of the league,” Gomez said. “The growth of the league when it comes to having quality players is phenomenal. The growth of the league in terms of giving domestic-based players and U.S. men’s national team-eligible players minutes, that’s another question.”