GOAL (Jon Arnold)
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and Costa Rica's Keylor Navas both spoke in the pre-match news conference and each took pains to emphasize Tuesday's World Cup qualifier would be more than Ochoa vs. Navas, more than Memo vs. Keylor, not simply a showdown between the region's two best goalkeepers.
"I respect Keylor, I admire him. He's had an excellent career and deserves to be where he is," Ochoa of the Real Madrid keeper on Monday. "He has his career and I have mine. He does things for his team and country, and I do them for mine."
Both did incredible things for their countries Tuesday as the shot-stoppers stole the show, despite their insistence the battle between them wouldn't.
Ochoa is a top goalkeeper, despite what he sometimes shows at the club level. But it's understandable that he doesn't want to be set next to Navas. There's a reason the Costa Rica No. 1 is playing for Real Madrid, not a club like Standard Liege where Ochoa plays. And, despite capable back-ups like Patrick Pemberton and Esteban Alvarado, there's a reason nobody has ever even thought to utter the phrase "goalkeeper competition" when Navas has been fit.
The 1-1 draw in San Jose showed us the best of both goalkeepers, though, with each putting on a show.
"I think both goalkeepers were very influential, both are very high-level players," Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said after the match. "It’s not a secret to (Costa Rica coach) Oscar (Ramirez) or to me and they were important for both teams.
"On goals, normally the defenders and/or the goalkeeper is criticized and in a lot of cases you have to give credit to the attackers. The Costa Rica goal is a great goal for them, mid-range shot and he put it in a very difficult place for Guillermo. Our goal I think also was a very good goal."
As Osorio alluded to, the draw had both players at their best but also showed us the cruel nature of the sport. Navas was beaten by a deflection off his own man, moments after he'd made an incredible save.
Ochoa was beaten by one of the best goals in recent memory, a potential favorite for CONCACAF Goal of the Year, that Marco Urena blasted past him to level the score.
It became clear Ochoa would have plenty to do just seconds into the game when Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz put a shot on target 15 seconds in. Ochoa was up for it, and though he looked to take a knock on the subsequent corner he showed no sign of being injured the rest of the match.
Navas would keep Costa Rica in the match on multiple occasions, on the half-hour mark when he made a reaction save that drew a huge ovation from the crowd in the Estadio Nacional and when he denied Jesus Corona one-on-one in the second half with the score still 1-0 in favor of the visitors.
The Real Madrid player's most impressive stop of the night may have been when he got his hand up to stop Giovani dos Santos' strong chested effort from Raul Jimenez's cross, but unfortunately for Navas, that play will be remembered best for his hard work being immediately undone by teammate Cristian Gamboa.
Ochoa ended the night with five saves (and got a bit of help from the post when Johan Venegas should've sent the Ticos into Russia in stoppage time), while Navas did him one better with six saves and had better distribution. If it was Memo vs. Keylor, Keylor gets this round.
But as the men themselves reminded us before the game, it's a team sport. Mexico was able to go to San Jose and come away with its undefeated run in qualification still in tact. Ultimately, we were treated to a show, both from the best goalkeepers in CONCACAF and from the top best teams in CONCACAF at the moment.
Mexico already is qualified for the World Cup, while Costa Rica needs just a point or one of their rivals to falter in October. Both teams will be in Russia and with them the goalkeepers who represent the very best North and Central America has to offer.