The war of attrition seemingly promised before the game began came to fruition in Texas, but the U.S. delivered their most composed performance of the tournament to finally deliver a result that didn’t feel lucky in any way.
The game began with a bang, as a fortuitous bounce and subsequent pass from Jozy Altidore teed up Jordan Morris for a blast that rattled the near post after just 12 seconds. The warning shot held true for the opening half hour, as the U.S. played their best soccer of the tournament so far. Darlington Nagbe drove at the opposing defense. Michael Bradley and Kellyn Acosta cycled possession well and won tackles as Costa Rica attempted to transition out of defense. Altidore and Morris took turns dropping into midfield to receive the ball and continue moves. The play culminated in a beautiful sequence that saw Altidore receive the ball far from goal and combine with Jordan Morris to free the big man on the right side of goal. Altidore took the ball in stride and seeing how acute his angle was, cut the ball back across the box for a streaking Kellyn Acosta. Pressured from behind, Acosta only managed to sky the ball in the air, not able to deliver the finish that the move deserved.
Costa Rica found their feet in the last 15 minutes of the half. Their 5-man back line managed to weather the storm of the early U.S. attack, and their midfield soon reaped the benefits. The sustained pressure of the U.S. midfield waned a bit, and Bryan Ruiz took full advantage of getting more time on the ball. His turn and dribble produced the best Costa Rican chance of the game by far, but Tim Howard was equal to the subsequent shot from Tico striker Urena. The game entered half time quietly, but much more equal than the match started.
The second half followed the pattern of the first half: energy and will, but few quality chances from either side. A Jordan Morris run drew Costa Rican Keeper Patrick Pemberton confusingly far off his line, but the subsequent cross into the box just missed Altidore’s head and managed to slip through Darlington Nagbe’s legs, as the midfielder looked surprised the ball had managed to make it all the way to him at the back post. Costa Rica answered with a couple questioning crosses Howard struggled a bit to deal with, but nothing came of them, and an eventual Kendall Waston foul cleared the danger for the U.S.
Seeking to break the deadlock, Bruce Arena introduced Clint Dempsey for Paul Arriola, pushing Jordan Morris wide right. The move gave the U.S. a bit more guile, as Dempsey dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball than either Altidore or Morris had done. The U.S. fired a warning shot through Kellyn Acosta after the sub, and soon enough the U.S. would indeed take the lead through Jozy Altidore. Darlington Nagbe wriggled through a challenge in midfield to slip a pass to the still-fresh Dempsey. Clint bamboozled David Guzman with his first touch much, and much like against El Salvador, found his man streaking to goal, threading the needle for Jozy to finish nicely with his left foot.
The goal brought Costa Rica out of their defensive shell, opening the game up for both sides. A wayward pass intercepted by Darlington Nagbe led to a 3 on 3 opportunity for the U.S., but Jorge Villafana’s dangerous cross fizzed through the box behind his any U.S. shirts breaking for goal. Despite a concerted effort by Costa Rica to get towards goal, the U.S. still looked likeliest to score next, and score they did through Clint Dempsey. The Texan sneaked a bending free kick low and around the wall, beating Pemberton to the near post and matching Landon Donovan’s USMNT goal record. It was a clever goal, a word apt to describe Dempsey’s game his entire career, and it sealed the result for the U.S. A few late chances came through for both sides, but the U.S. saw out the result comfortably for a deserved 2-0 victory. The U.S. will return to the Gold Cup final for the first time since 2013.