Tuesday night in Chicago, the United States men's national team earned a critical 4-0 victory vs. Costa Rica in Copa America Centenario group play. The win moved the U.S. from the bottom of Group A to very favorable position in second place with one more to play. Here's what we learned:
You wanted a consistent lineup? You got it.
Many voices (including this writer's) called for changes to Jürgen Klinsmann's starting XI following the United States' opening loss vs. Colombia. Surely an injection of midfield creativity and the fearlessness of youth was the answer to unlocking this American offense. But pundit favorites Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic weren't in the lineup Tuesday night. In fact, they didn't see the field at all.
Instead, the lineup card brought some satisfaction to those chanting a different refrain: consistency. Klinsmann made zero changes to the team that had taken the field four days prior. And whether the rest of us liked it or not from the start, everything worked on this night. Klinsmann was full of praise following his team's opening performance on Friday. He'd also hinted this week that Nagbe wouldn't start, noting that he was learning the "tempo at the international level." So perhaps none of us should have been surprised.
One Country for Old Men
The obituaries of the international careers of Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones will have to wait for another day. Quite likely it'll be many, many days.
The USMNT's two elder statesmen (with apologies to Tim Howard) led the way vs. Costa Rica, each stepping up in big ways.
In the 9th minute, it was Dempsey who stepped to the penalty spot with confidence and gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead. It was a crisp no-doubter finish and set the tone early. A must-win situation required a big player to step up in a big moment. Clint Dempsey was once again ready to oblige, scoring his 50th international goal.
Jones, on the other hand, turned in perhaps his best performance in a United States uniform since the 2014 World Cup. He was the best player on the field for the U.S., which is saying something on a night where just about everyone played well. Jones was a force in the midfield as you might expect, but flashed his playmaking skills as well.
Thought we'd see youth off the bench? Guess again. 29-year-old Graham Zusi was the only sub under the age of 30, with Chris Wondolowski (33) and Kyle Beckerman (34) also seeing action. A statement from Klinsmann? He trusts his veterans, and he intends to ride them heavily this summer.
The USMNT is fun again
Well, at least for one night, anyway. Cynicism aside (and yes, please do put it aside... I insist), this team has been tremendous fun to watch in recent weeks. The United States ran into the #3 ranked team in the world on Friday, and didn't have an especially good result. Fine, we more or less expected that. We've also expected the U.S. to flex its own muscle against less-than-elite competition, and they've done exactly that.
On Tuesday the U.S. scored four goals for the second time in a week, and perhaps more importantly, kept another clean sheet. This team has posted dominating results again opponents (we believe) it should dominate. The goals have come in bunches, and there is a renewed confidence in its play.
A similar performance on Saturday vs. Paraguay will see the Americans through to the quarterfinals, where an opportunity against a bigger opponent (Brazil?) awaits. Will the United States win Copa America? Well, very likely not. But the 90 minutes between the whistles on this night were a blast. That's been missing for a while. So pardon me while I enjoy some winning American soccer.