World Cup One to Watch: Kendall Waston – Costa Rica
Last World Cup’s surprise package, Costa Rica, are back to prove the doubters wrong this summer. One of their break-out stars is Kendall Waston.
Four years on from their march to the World Cup quarter-finals, Costa Rica will arrive in Russia hoping history can repeat itself.
Manager Oscar Ramirez will be relying on the same nucleus of talent that surprised everybody in Brazil with Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz all expected to feature heavily.
Kendall Waston, however, is a relatively new addition for the Ticos in central defence.
The 30-year-old leads and captains the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS and, having missed his country’s heroics last time, will be keen to make his presence felt in Group E.
It was his goal, after all, which secured Costa Rica’s passage to Russia in the first place, a 95th-minute equaliser against Honduras, sending his countrymen into raptures.
Costa Rica qualified easily from the CONCACAF rounds, arriving in Moscow for their second tournament in succession after finishing behind Juan Carlos Osorio’s Mexico.
Whilst his country prospered on the pitch, Waston’s club navigated a stodgy year last time out.
Vancouver laboured manfully through a long season in the Western Conference, finishing just a point behind Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders in third place.
Waston proved himself to be one of Carl Robinson’s most consistent performers, a bustling behemoth orchestrating his teammates diligently in defence.
His sterling form was rewarded with a one-year contract extension in February, with the option to pursue a further 12 months.
The former Saprissa stalwart will be a crucial part of Ramirez’s trundling 5-4-1.
The Costa Rica coach will look to juxtapose his presence and experience alongside Bologna’s Giancarlo González.
Waston featured regularly throughout qualifying, popping up decisively in set pieces at both ends of the pitch.
The odds of the Ticos repeating their heroics from Brazil remain impossibly slim. Unlike four years ago, they lack the element of surprise.
None of their competitors in Group E will allow the same complacency that put Uruguay, Italy and England to the sword last time out.
In a team devoid of shock value, therefore, Waston could make a decisive impression.
His strengths are obvious. At 6 foot 5, Waston will prove a shuddering presence for limited strikers such as Haris Seferovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Switzerland and Serbia would be wise to bypass the long ball game totally in the presence of the towering centre-back whose dominance would make things fairly simple for the Ticos in defence. He is impossible to bully.
Against Brazil’s shimmering playmakers, however, Waston’s lack of mobility could be dangerously exposed.
Ramírez may yet decide to field the more pacy and agile Oscar Duarte against Tite’s men but, if Waston starts, his teammates will need to sit deep and compact if they hope to achieve anything from the game.
If any of the Brazilian forwards can find themselves one-on-one with the Vancouver man, Costa Rica are in big trouble.
His last season in MLS was notable not just for its consistency, but also for the fact that it failed to attract a single red card; quite the turnaround for a player who received three sending-offs in the campaign immediately before.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.