Costa Rica's Ronald Matarrita (red jersey) plays for New York City FC in Major League Soccer. (Photo: Mexsport)
ORLANDO, Florida -- If Costa Rica is going to pick up at the Copa America Centenario where it left off in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, two nations to the north may be partly to thank.
The Ticos brought a squad to the competition that includes five players in Major League Soccer, including three with Canadian sides and two with clubs in the United States.
That’s two more MLS players than participated in the 2014 run to the World Cup quarterfinals, and two more on the current roster than from any division other than Costa Rica’s domestic league.
Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz has taken notice, even though he has never played in MLS and has plied his club trade in Europe for the last decade.
“I think it’s growing a lot,” said Ruiz, who plays for Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon. “Many Costa Rican players are playing here in MLS now, and they are very happy here.”
“Even for me, in the future, it could be a place to come to. For now, I like to follow my colleagues that play here and I hope that they’re doing well.”
Defender Ronald Matarrita is excelling both with the national team and in MLS. The 21-year-old has started in 11 matches in his first season with New York City FC, while also helping Costa Rica to first place in its fourth-round qualifying group for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“Going to MLS has helped me a lot, to know different opponents, know another style of play, get to know the different mentality of another manager,” Matarrita remarked. “To be in the MLS has helped me a lot on a personal and mental level. I go into the Copa America with a lot of confidence.”
Perhaps the big stage of an expanded Copa America, played in many MLS markets across the U.S., could result in more Costa Ricans heading north.
“I think it’s very important to have this kind of tournament in America,” Ruiz finished. “It makes like a small World Cup.”