When Costa Rica kicks off its World Cup journey against Serbia on Sunday, New York City FC fans will recognize two familiar faces from the boys in blue: defender Ronald Matarrita and forward Rodney Wallace.
Both were nowhere near the national team, let alone the Big Apple, during Costa Rica’s last World Cup run in 2014. That year, the team surprisingly advanced from its group — one that consisted of previous World Cup winners Uruguay, Italy and England — before falling in the quarterfinals to the Netherlands in penalties.
At the time, Matarrita was still playing for Costa Rican side Alajuelense, and Wallace was with the Portland Timbers. Now, the best friends and road roommates are looking forward to their personal World Cup debuts together.
“We first met in a friendly against Russia,” Matarrita told reporters last month. “We became friends, and then things worked out where we both ended up at the same club, and that’s where we really got close, and we’re really both happy to be together.”
“You know, he’s one of my closest friends and to be in this journey with him together, it’s amazing,” Wallace said. “I mean, he’s a person that I can trust and, you know, he’s literally behind me on the field. You know there’s no secret to why we’re in this together.”
Patrick Vieira, NYCFC’s recently departed coach and a World Cup winner with France in 1998, told both Matarrita and Wallace to “just enjoy” their first World Cup tournament.
“This is the first one for them, and you don’t know when there will be the next one, so they have to take the maximum of it and enjoy it,” Vieira said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so what we want for [Matarrita] is to go there and to show how good he is … [and] the same for Rodney.”
Neither is expected to start for Los Ticos, but both will be competing for minutes during the tournament. Wallace turns 30 during the competition, but Matarrita is only 23 with his prime on the horizon.
Costa Rica is stumbling their way into Group E play at the World Cup, losing two of their last three friendlies to England and Belgium entering the tournament. Along with Serbia, Group E includes tournament favorite Brazil as well as Switzerland.