Over the last few days, Leo Gonzalez has been a picture of guarded optimism.
The Sounders FC left back and former Costa Rica National Teamer saw his home country survive a 2-1 victory over favored Uruguay last week, but was unsure if that momentum could carry Los Ticos through a very difficult group in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. On Friday, though, he was beaming with pride at training as Costa Rica carried a 1-0 lead over Italy into halftime as Sounders FC took to the practice field at Starfire. By the time the session was over, Gonzalez learned that Costa Rica won and clinched advancement to the Round of 16 and he couldn't contain his smile.
"The first game was very difficult. But they had a different attitude in the second half and won that game. Hopefully they can play well against England," said Gonzalez, who wore a red compression shirt under his jersey in support of
Costa Rica at training. "We'll enjoy the moment and hopefully they continue to do well."
Costa Rica was a longshot to get out of Group D. With England ranked 10th, Italy ninth and Uruguay seventh in the FIFA World rankings posted on June 5, 28th-ranked Costa Rica was by far the lowest-ranked team in the group.
Using a patient and pugnacious 5-4-1 formation, Costa Rica has held two of the world's top attacks at bay. Now with England remaining on the schedule, a team who has been eliminated from contention to advance after losses to Italy and Uruguay, Costa Rica has potential to go through with the top spot in the group, something that was only a distant possibility to even the most fervent supporters.
"Many people in Costa Rica initially thought it was a hard group and we wouldn't have many opportunities. But it's soccer. Things happen," Gonzalez said. "They're doing very well. They're playing with confidence."
Costa Rica continued a trend of success for CONCACAF teams thus far in the World Cup. Mexico has gone 1-0-1 to share the Group A lead with Brazil and the U.S. won its opener against Ghana, while Honduras has the lone defeat for a CONCACAF team, falling 3-0 to France in the first match.
"It just shows that we're not the minnows that everybody thinks we are. There are quality players here," Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. "People don't give us enough respect."
The Seattle locker room has turned into a place of joyful competition as players root on their respective countries, even in direct competition with their teammates' home nations.
"Everybody's nationality comes out," Schmid said. "You really watch as a fan and that's fun."