Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey lead U.S. to statement win over Costa Rica
CHICAGO -- The U.S. men's national team rebounded from Friday's Copa America Centenario-opening loss to Colombia in spectacular fashion on Tuesday at Soldier Field and demolished regional rival Costa Rica 4-0.
Clint Dempsey got the tournament hosts off to a quick start with a ninth-minute goal from the penalty spot, and Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood also tallied in the first half before second-half substitute Graham Zusi added a fourth goal with three minutes left to play. The U.S. travels to Philadelphia next, knowing that a win against Paraguay on Saturday will qualify the Americans for the quarterfinals of the competition.
Here are three quick thoughts on Tuesday's match:
1. A statement win from the U.S.
In what coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players were calling a must-win game, the U.S. not only secured victory but also did so in grand style. After a few nervous moments just after kickoff, Dempsey's strike from the penalty spot -- Ecuadoran referee Roddy Zambrano called the infraction after Cristian Gamboa bowled over Wood in the box -- settled the home team.
Rather than take the foot off the gas and dare the Ticos to try to break the U.S. down (the way Colombia did in the Americans' 2-0 loss in Santa Clara, California) and hit them on the counterattack, the U.S. kept coming at the visitors. It worked.
The U.S. sent wave after wave of attack forward, with both Jones and Gyasi Zardes getting close before Jones made it 2-0 in the 37th minute. The second the rugged defensive midfielder's low blast beat keeper Patrick Pemberton and settled inside the far post, the sigh of relief from the pro-American crowd was visceral. When Wood almost single-footedly created the home team's third goal five minutes later with a neat turn and finish off a pass from Dempsey, the outcome was never in doubt.
For a team that has been under the microscope in recent days, it was a statement victory that could put the U.S. in position to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament with a draw against Paraguay on Saturday in Philadelphia.
2. Veterans lead the way
For all the prematch talk about the younger U.S. players -- specifically, 25-year-old Darlington Nagbe and 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund wunderkind Christian Pulisic -- grizzled World Cup vets Dempsey and Jones were the Americans' best players in the Windy City.
Dempsey, 33, took his high-stakes PK with confidence for his 50th international goal and sent Pemberton diving the wrong way. Also, "Deuce" was involved in just about every U.S. foray forward in the first half. Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Jones, who many U.S. fans (and more than a few media members) suggested earlier in the week should sit in favor of Nagbe, was the team's best player.
The German-American was a beast on the left side, as he won tackles and helped cover full-back Fabian Johnson. He even showed off his playmaking ability by threading a brilliant, second-half through ball to Alejandro Bedoya before a last-minute clearance prevented Zardes from knocking home Bedoya's final pass.
The only question now is how much Dempsey and Jones have left in the tank. Jones has played 156 minutes in the Yanks' first two games; Dempsey has featured in all but 13 minutes of their Copa campaign. Both have dealt with nagging leg injuries throughout the past year, so you have to wonder if they'll be capable of repeating their fantastic performances Tuesday -- on just three days' rest. With another high-stakes match for the U.S. looming in Philadelphia, Klinsmann and U.S. fans will be hoping they can.
3. The pressure is off Klinsmann -- for now
In a round-table interview with reporters just hours before Tuesday's contest, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said that after a disappointing past 18 months, the U.S. needed to "win some games." Gulati stopped short of saying that the Americans had to survive the first round of this Copa America for Klinsmann to keep his job, but he spoke in more noticeably forceful tones about his coach's job security than he had on previous occasions.
As such, on a day that started with the possibility of the tournament hosts being eliminated from second-round contention, even before their third group match was played, the 4-0 win felt like a measure of vindication for the controversial German manager. All week, Klinsmann had insisted that he was pleased with his team's overall performance against the Colombians. He backed up those words by trotting out the exact same starting lineup in Chicago, and he was repaid handsomely for it.
The job isn't complete yet, and the pressure will be more intense than ever, should the Americans lose to Paraguay and fail to advance. But Tuesday's rout will silence Klinsmann's many critics for now, and the momentum is clearly back on his team's side.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.