Ronald Matarrita (22) had plenty to celebrate Saturday, including his first goal of the season (Robert Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX — You name the major injury and it seems Ronald Matarrita has suffered it during his New York City tenure.
Here’s just a few of them:
A high ankle sprain.
A hamstring injury.
A broken fifth metatarsal of his right foot
So, getting an opportunity to play in the World Cup for Costa Rica just might be heaven sent and rewarding.
“It’s been a difficult year with injuries, but God has a plan for all of us,” he said after scoring his first goal of the season in New York City FC’s 4-0 home win over the Colorado Rapids Saturday. “Personally, I had to be mentally strong to recover, but now that I’m back, it’s all about putting in a team effort and working hard for the club and the national team.”
During the 23-year-old Matarrita’s struggles, head coach Patrick Vieira never lost faith in his left back, even when the Tico lost his starting position to Ben Sweat.
“Mata has been really unlucky with injuries and with the performance of Ben but he has been positive and keeps working hard,” Vieira said. “He was a bit tired at the end but it was good that he managed to play the 90 minutes. Now he has to be thinking about the national team and how he can go there and give his best and try to do well.”
Team captain David Villa, who scored twice in the game at Yankee Stadium, understood what his teammate was forced to endure.
“In my opinion, the worst situation for the players is when you are injured,” he said. “When you are injured, your mind changes a lot. Mata has had a few injuries during his period with NYCFC. He’s a really good player, he’s a really good guy. It’s important for him to get confidence, not only to score a goal, not only to make a good game, but to play and play and play and not to get injured again.”
Matarrita getting the World Cup call, Villa said, “it’s bad for us. In one way it’s bad. In another way it’s amazing to have players in the World Cup.”
Scoring a goal was just a cherry on top of the icing on a cake for Matarrita, whose header off an advantage play after captain David Villa was fouled lifted NYCFC into a 3-0 lead.
“It gives me extra hope,” Matarrita said. “The goal was just an extra but I’ve been putting in hard work on and off the ball. The most important thing is that the team won. It’s more about the group than an individual performance.”
The 5-9, 154-lb. Matarrita said his goal celebration “was very emotional.”
“I was very satisfied to be on the pitch and help the team, putting in a good game, also a goal, but also working hard together,” he added. “I liked how we worked together as a team to keep improving.”
Mata and forward Rodney Wallace won’t have to worry about the national side until after Friday’s road match at the Houston Dynamo. Then they both can concentrate on Russia 2018.
“As teammates we are very anxious for it as you can only live this opportunity once in a lifetime, but we’re going to take advantage, work hard, work as a team and we’re looking to progress farther than the last team did in the last World Cup,” Matarrita said.
Mataritta has given his Central American side and teammates a high bar, considering Costa Rica was one of the surprise teams at Brazil 2014, reaching the quarterfinals before it was eliminated by the Netherlands in a shootout.
Overcoming his injuries has reminded Mata that no mountain is too high to climb or too huge to conquer.