• Kendall Waston has established himself in Costa Rica’s starting line-up
  • Vancouver Whitecaps defender scored in Los Ticos' most recent World Cup qualifier
  • Costa Rica host Panama (8 June), then Trinidad and Tobago (13 June)

The biggest challenge of any top-level football player is to become established as a starter at both club and international level. For centre-back Kendall Waston, success in achieving that with club side Vancouver Whitecaps has translated into him being a first-choice selection for his native Costa Rica.

Motivation to become a regular starter with Los Ticos would not have been in short supply for the 29-year-old. Though he made his FIFA World Cup™ qualifying debut in the campaign for Brazil 2014, Waston missed out on the trip to the finals, and with it, first-hand experience of his country’s remarkable run to the quarter-finals.

Canadian move
It was shortly after those historic events in Brazil that Waston took up the opportunity to improve his prospects with the Costa Rica squad by leaving Deportivo Saprissa in his homeland to join Major League Soccer outfit Vancouver in August 2014. After two-and-a-half seasons anchoring the Whitecaps’ defence, Waston was then handed the captain’s armband for the current MLS campaign. He admits the move to Canada’s west coast was important in fulfilling his ambitions. “The type of tournament [MLS], with the intensity and the competition, I think that has helped me as a player,” Waston said in an interview with FIFA.com.

Solid displays in MLS - the most recent being a two-goal performance in Vancouver’s 3-1 home win over Atlanta United - led to his opportunity to anchor Costa Rica’s backline, with seven appearances already to Waston’s name in Russia 2018 qualifying. His most recent display proved memorable, as he earned Los Ticos a valuable point in Honduras with a second-half equaliser - a near-post header off a corner delivered by his Whitecaps team-mate Christian Bolanos. “It was a big thing because we needed to draw, at least. We couldn’t lose that game,” he said of the 28 March result in San Pedro Sula. “It doesn’t matter who scored, but me scoring, it helped me because I feel [more confident] and it’s a big thing scoring with your national team, even more so in a qualifying game.”

Huge home stand
A bright start to the Hexagonal stage of CONCACAF qualifying has the central American nation in second place after four rounds of matches. Waston and his team-mates are now preparing for two crucial home qualifiers, starting with Thursday’s clash against Panama before hosting Trinidad and Tobago next Tuesday. “We know that at home, we are strong,” Waston said. “We cannot draw, we cannot lose, the only thing that we can do is win, so hopefully we can win those big games. We cannot leave any points [on the table].”

A maximum points haul over the next week would go some way to securing a fifth World Cup appearance for the Costa Ricans, but Waston is mindful that only positive results in all of their remaining qualifiers can make that a reality. “The key is only winning,” he said. “Sometimes, you can play ugly or nice, but in this type of game, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is win those three points. We have our focus on Russia, and hopefully, we can get there.”

(Images of Monday's practice of #LaSele, as they enter the final phase of preparations for the game against Panama.)