The USMNT knew they needed to step their game up after a shaky 2-0 win against El Salvador, and they did just that against Costa Rica. Several players turned in strong performances against the Ticos, and the night ended in a deserved victory and record-tying celebration for a U.S. legend.
Tim Howard - 7
The big man didn’t have all that much to do on the night, but made the two obligatory big saves he seems required to make in a high-intensity U.S. match. Howard made the dangerous situations look routine, and while he misplayed a cross or two on the match, still proves his worth to the national team time and time again.
Jorge Villafana - 6
Villafana was a player needing a good showing after some mediocre play in the group stage, and he looked much better against Costa Rica than he did earlier in the tournament. His tireless running up and down the left side and combination with Darlington Nagbe let the U.S. maintain possession well, and his high pressure kept Costa Rica pinned down in their own half for long portions of the game.
Matt Besler - 6
He was at times less-than-composed on the ball, blasting a half-volley attempt in the box high into the domed stadium and playing a forty yard ball out for a corner, failing to hit the pass anywhere close to Tim Howard. Those moments notwithstanding, Besler made important interceptions in and around the box, and came through when he needed to for the U.S. A thoroughly professional game from him.
Omar Gonzalez - 5.5
Gonzalez enjoyed what was probably his best game of the tournament as well. This was not hard, as he has had plenty of dumpster fire moments in the games leading up to this. Frequently getting into physical battles with Urena, Gonzalez cut out the head-slapping mistakes, stepped up his game in possession considerably, and was solid in open play. However, it must be said that although Costa Rica didn’t manage to score from any set-pieces, the fact that they did manage to win almost all of the offensive ones they took is still a concern for someone like Gonzalez, who the U.S. look to in such moments.
Graham Zusi - 5
It was a bit of a mixed night for Zusi. He started the game brightly, pressuring high, winning tackles, and combining better with Arriola on the flank than I had seen him all tournament. The Costa Rican attack soon got the better of him, though, goading him into several fouls. He lost wingback Francisco Calvo on a long diagonal ball that the Costa Rican should have done better with. Zusi recovered in the second half a bit, but most of Costa Rica’s few chances still came from his side of the field.
Michael Bradley - 7
On one occasion, Bryan Ruiz got the better of Michael Bradley in the midfield, and the U.S. nearly paid the price for it. But Bradley was a constant steadying presence in the midfield for the U.S., and orchestrated the players around him well all game long. He won tackles, he combined with other midfielders, and he allowed the U.S. to build out of the back as opposed to lumping the ball forward towards the forwards, a problem that had hounded the U.S. this tournament. It wasn’t a loud performance, but it was the one the U.S. needed from him, and one that he’ll need to continue to repeat if the U.S. want to win this Gold Cup.
Kellyn Acosta - 5
Michael Bradley’s presence in midfield allowed Kellyn Acosta to roam a bit more freely, as the young Dallas midfielder pushed higher up the field to break up transition play and start counter attacks quickly. He started the game brightly doing just that, winning tackles left and right. His influence on the game quickly waned, however, and he seemed unable to put much of a stamp on the offensive side of things. His strike in the second half tested Pemberton, but for the most part his most important contribution was being relatively tidy in possession. Not a bad game by any means, but not as good as he would have liked, either.
Darlington Nagbe - 7
Nagbe was the attack’s metronome, constantly popping up where he needed to be on the field. His shift out to the wing brought out a more aggressive Nagbe, as he sought to push the ball forward more with his dribbling and burst of pace. This proved quite effective, as his speed forced Costa Rica back deeper than they would have liked. He gave Dempsey a hockey assist after drifting into the midfield as an outlet to relieve high Costa Rican pressure, leading to Altidore’s opener. He’ll want the ball that went through his legs back, but Darlington was much more active and dangerous in the attack against Costa Rica, which bodes well for the U.S.
Paul Arriola - 6
Arriola has this quality of play about him that makes him constantly look like he’s either going to do something stupendous or something that will get him carded. He throws himself into the game, for better or worse. And while he didn’t quite have a breakthrough night, he still turned in his best performance of the tournament as well, constantly pressuring the Costa Rican defense and getting stuck into battles on the wing.
Jordan Morris - 7
Smashing the post after 12 seconds is a bit of a bummer, but Jordan Morris delivered one of his most mature performances in a U.S. shirt to date. The quiet evolution of his passing game this tournament has been fun to watch. The ball to spring Altidore on an early Kellyn Acosta pass was probably the best pass I’ve ever seen him play, which is saying something, since the best pass I’ve previously seen him play was his left-footed (!) cross to Alejandro Bedoya in the friendly against Ghana. Morris put in a ton of work, pressuring defenders and handling the physicality of the Costa Rican defense well. Almost unlocked the game again in the second half with his run drawing Pemberton far off his line.
Jozy Altidore - 7
It seemed like it was going to be yet another game were Jozy soaked up the defensive pressure and tried his damnedest to get his team on the scoreboard to no avail once again. He battled well, but his touch came and went for stretches of the game. Fortunately for strikers, one touch can change your fortunes completely, and his game winner provided the deft touch needed with his weaker foot to beat Pemberton and win the game for the U.S.
Clint Dempsey - 10
What can we say about Clint? He was brought into the game to give the American attack more guile, and he did exactly that. Clint’s greatest attribute has long been, in Bruce Arena’s words, that “He tries shit.” He beat two defenders on the dribble and then took two more out of the game with his pass to Jozy Altidore. And on his own goal, the record-tying 57th goal for the United States, he snuck his shot low and around the wall at the near post, giving Pemberton little time to react with the Keeper expecting to see the ball fly over top of his defenders. Clint Dempsey fundamentally changed the game with his willingness to take risks, and the U.S. won because of him.
Gyasi Zardes - 5
Brought in for Jozy Altidore, Zardes didn’t make any glaring errors or eye-popping offensive moves. Briefly got on the ball in the box on one occasion, but nothing came of it. Did the job he needed to do for his brief time on the field.
Dax McCarty - 6
Another person who came in and did the job they needed to do. Nearly gave the U.S. a third goal by brilliantly reading a pass and intercepting the ball deep in Costa Rican territory. It’s a shame Dax is only just getting a real crack at the national team at the age of 30, because he’s an incredibly smart and reliable player in the midfield. So it goes.