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The Strange Case of Rodney Wallace and the Costa Rican National Team

After a strong start with Costa Rica back in 2011, Rodney Wallace has struggled to find minutes on the pitch with his international team.

Jonathan Ferrey

In 2012 Rodney Wallace was the surprise hero of the Costa Rican National team. Now, despite repeated call ups, Jorge Luis Pinto, the Costa Rican head coach since late in 2011, appears to have forgotten that he exists.

In September of 2011 Pinto took over Los Ticos. He inherited a team that had just grabbed a 1-0 friendly win over the USA thanks to a beauty of a header from second half sub Rodney Wallace in his international debut. Since then Wallace has increased his total to fourteen caps, most of which have come as a defensively minded substitute, scoring three times along the way.

This afternoon Costa Rica is set to take on the US for just the second time since Pinto took the reins, the first being the infamous game played in driving snow in Commerce City, Colorado earlier this year. Almost two years after his game winning goal, however, it looks unlikely that Wallace will feature for Costa Rica.

Wallace is a player who has been in torrid form for his club this year, netting four goals and assisting on five more for the Portland Timbers in only fourteen games. It had been two years of promise from Wallace and very little delivery before the 2013 season, so as he found his place on the pitch and in Caleb Porter's system it was no surprise to Timbers fans that Wallace would get another call up from Costa Rica for the World Cup Qualifiers.

It did come as a surprise, however, when Wallace did not make the bench, let alone the field, for the duration. Calling in Wallace for three weeks, the busiest stretch of the Timbers season, only to not play him left a sour taste in the mouths of Timbers fans.

Upon his return to Portland, despite not getting in a game for the better part of a month thanks to his time with Costa Rica, Wallace seemed to step his game up even further. In the Timbers' 3-0 demolition of the Colorado Rapids, only four days after his return to Portland, Wallace notched three assists. It was the first assist hat trick by a Timbers player in the MLS era.

That was, however, his only game with the Timbers before returning to national team duty with Costa Rica for the Gold Cup.

Used by several of CONCACAF's stronger teams to field test their fringe players, the Gold Cup seemed like a great chance for Wallace to get some minutes with Costa Rica, despite missing more games with the Timbers, especially with Costa Rica kicking off the tournament in Portland.

So it was that Wallace got the start for Costa Rica against Cuba just one week ago. It was a smart move from Pinto as it got the Timbers fans, primarily in attendance for the USA's match against Belize, rooting for Los Ticos. However, after 58 minutes Wallace was pulled from the match.

In his time on the pitch Wallace started as a left midfielder in a 4-4-2, but switched regularly to the right wing, spending equal time on each side of the field. He was not flagging and continued to get into dangerous situations with the ball for Los Ticos until he came off.

When Costa Rica took on Belize four days later, Wallace was left out of the lineup entirely.

Tonight, as Costa Rica takes on the USMNT for control of Group C, it is hard to imagine Wallace making the 18. Not because he isn't good enough, but because he once again finds himself with a coach that does not quite know what to do with him.

For two years Wallace toiled away under John Spencer and earned a reputation with Timbers fans as an attacking left back who was prone to defensive errors. In his call ups with Costa Rica he was played further forward as a left midfielder, but has been used to shore up the defense rather than as an attacking option.

However, this year in Portland under Caleb Porter has seen Wallace playing the best football of his career. His defensive contributions have been noticed an appreciated, but it is as an attacking player that Timbers fans now see Rodney Wallace; a threat out wide that cannot be ignored and that gives the rest of the team room in which to operate.

That is part of the (dare we say it...) genius of Caleb Porter. Rodney Wallace is a good soccer player. He can play anywhere on the pitch and, in his career in Portland alone, he has. Still, there is only one position where he has truly shined.