As his teammates battled their way back in Panama City last month, Jairo Arrieta watched carefully from the bench.The perch captured the significant progress made by the 29-year-old Columbus striker over the past couple of years. The former Brujas and Saprissa man spent much of his career in Costa Rica on the fringes of the team before finally making his debut in 2011. His good form in MLS since joining the Crew last April and his exploits during the Copa Centroamericana in January – two goals scored, one championship secured – earned him a place in the squad for the opening match of the Hex.
Costa Rica boss Jorge Luis Pinto left the speedy Arrieta on the bench as his side pegged the Panamanians back after shipping two goals in the early stages. The response came from the most likely parties – Álvaro Saborío scored six minutes before halftime to reduce the deficit, Bryan Ruiz snatched the equalizer six minutes before the end – and garnered a valuable point at Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
“Maybe we didn't get the three points that we wished for, but, with the way it started, 2-2 is a good result for the team,” Arrieta said through a translator during a phone interview last week. “It will allow us to build for the rest of the Hex.”
Arrieta and his teammates will hope the revival against Panama establishes the necessary foundation for success in Commerce City, Colo. on Friday. The circumstances require another resolute effort against an opponent desperate to atone for a defeat in Honduras in its first match.
Even with the controversies and the selection questions swirling around the American camp at the moment, the trip still looms as a difficult one for Pinto's side. U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann may enter this match with significant concerns about his tattered defense, but he can still turn to the likes of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey to lead the efforts. And the controversy stirred up by a Sporting News piece released on Tuesday may serve to galvanize the group.
In light of those issues and the landscape ahead, Costa Rica would certainly settle for a draw with a home match against Jamaica ahead on Tuesday. The reality of the situation will not stop Arrieta and his teammates from pursuing a second World Cup qualifying victory on U.S. soil, though.
“It is important,” Arrieta said. “We start with our first two matches away. It is important for us to focus on it and try to come here and add points. Hopefully, we will be able to get three points.”
This group – particularly with Ruiz and Saborío included – always possesses a chance to claim a result against any CONCACAF foe. This outfit isn't a vintage Costa Rican side and Pinto's shape (4-3-3) may leave the suspect rearguard exposed at points, but it still boasts two genuine match-winners and the promising Campbell to procure results with brilliance in the final third.
None of those traits – nor the likely presence of Christian Bolaños and Celso Borges in central midfield – will flourish without the proper defensive application. Costa Rica abdicated its basic away duties during the opening half-hour in Panama City. Similar wantonness on Friday night could lead to a greater punishment than the momentary rebuke suffered last month.
Arrieta will hope to play a more significant role in this affair than he did in Panama City. The competition for places remains particularly difficult with Campbell, Ruiz and Saborío all in the mix up front, but the Crew striker said he hopes to find a way to help his team emerge with a positive result on Friday night.
“I come in with my motivation at the highest level, knowing that it is an important game,” Arrieta said. “I am happy and thankful to God for this callup to the team. I'm hoping to be able to play in this game.”
And if it does not come to pass, he can still marvel at the strides he has made over the past few years, take in the proceedings and wait a bit longer for his chance to impress.
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