The game against Costa Rica was a clear reversal from the debacle against Colombia. In the opener, almost nobody performed very well. The team didn't look to have much of a game plan and the players systematically struggled. In contrast, near everyone shined against Costa Rica. Klinsmann trotted out the same lineup and he got a result. That's on a couple different factors. Of course, familiarity with the formation and the player roles helped. As did facing weaker opposition and the early goal. But the individuals also came and put on a show. Let's take a look at who's stock went up and whose went down after that beatdown on Costa Rica.
Bobby Wood did not have the best first twenty minutes or so against Costa Rica. He missed passes and was disjointed from the play. His highlight from that segment of play was him getting bungled over by Joel Campbell. Fortunately, that was the penalty call. While his start wasn't so hot, the movement, determination, and willingness to sacrifice for the team shown to win that foul became Wood's story for the rest of the match. After moving to striker with the formation change during the first half, Wood began to shine. His movement improved. He held the ball well. While his passing and decision making can still sometimes be suspect, he showed that he's up for the international game. He battled with Costa Rica's defenders and was frequently dangerous. To top it all off, he scored a pretty great goal. I mean, Wood you just look at this? It's glorious.
I knocked Johnson pretty hard after the Colombia game. Well, he came back and really performed against Costa Rica. He showed himself as the kind of solid two-way player that the US needs at fullback. He got up on offense and helped put some pressure on that Costa Rican defense. On defense, he shut down that Colombian right wing. Costa Rica's attack struggled so badly, their best attacker, Joel Campbell, was substituted off at half time. With this performance, the mess that was the match against Colombia looks more like a blip, with a fantastic return to form.
Tuesday's game was the Jermaine Jones show. You, the readers, picked him as the Man of the Match, and for good reason. After disappearing for most of the match against Colombia, Jones showed up. After the World Cup, Jones was tried out at centerback in an experiment meant to extend his national team career. At 34 years old, many people began to question how much more the defensive midfielder had in the tank. This year, after being traded to the Colorado Rapids, Jones has been playing even higher up the field than ever. It was an incredibly puzzling move. And it immediately paid dividends to the Rapids, who were tepid in attack last season (to be charitable). Today, that move paid off for the national team. Jones destroyed Costa Rica's midfield. He won plays high up the pitch to unleash counterattacks that terrified the Central Americans. The goal he scored was a perfect example of this. Jones stripped the ball while pressing high, before feeding Clint Dempsey. As Deuce made his mazy run towards the box, Jones made a run down the left, nailing a low shot that curved perfectly into the bottom corner of the far post. Jones played that way the whole game.
In the 2014 World Cup, Matt Besler was the go-to man in centerback. There was just one exception. In the first game, he came out with a muscle strain and John Brooks went in. Well, John Brooks has now fully replaced Matt Besler. Brooks has had two excellent games, putting out fires and helping out on that left side. Brooks is here to stay and that looks to be at Besler's expense.
Zardes didn't have a bad game by any means. However, the rest of the team pulled an excellent showing and Zardes ended up being the weak link. While his first touch was (mostly) better against Costa Rica, his passing left a lot to be desired. When the US switched to a 4-4-2, Bobby Wood went up top alongside Clint Dempsey instead of the LA Galaxy man. If Zardes is to be considered primarily for the wing, well, he's got some competition. Bedoya had a great match and can play out wide. Graham Zusi is primarily a wide player and he came on, pressed well, and scored a great solo goal.
The 4-3-3 formation
Since we brought it up, let's talk about formations. The USMNT started the match in the same 4-3-3 that we saw against Colombia. However, around midway through the first half, the team went to a 4-4-2, with Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey up top, and Michael Bradley as the deepest midfielder. In the opening minutes, Costa Rica pressed high and made the US really uncomfortable. After the US went ahead with Dempsey's penalty, Costa Rica continued to try to press high. However, after the shift, the US was able to sucker punch with the two excellent goals from Jones and Wood. In the second half, the USMNT sat back and absorbed pressure. Here, the 4-4-2 did it's job, with Costa Rica struggling to carve out much in the way of chances. Now, don't assume that this switch spells the end of the 4-3-3. We'll probably be seeing it again. However, the team now has an option to switch up depending on opponent or game states. That 4-3-3 is now not a set thing.