Klinsy, you old dog.
Pressure was mounting, the heat was rising, rumors were pounding, criticism aplenty, and then this happened. A master class. Last night, the United States Men’s National Team thrashed Costa Rica 4-0. It is important to acknowledge Costa Rica’s unfortunate injury and suspension situation; this was a banged up Ticos side. That does not, however, take away from the USA’s powerful performance.
From the opening whistle the game flowed swiftly in Costa Rica’s favor. In the first few minutes Costa Rica charged down into the US half and put immediate pressure on the US defense. Then Costa Rica committed an early penalty and changed the entire shape of the game. Without the penalty, the first twenty minutes or so of the game may have played out differently. However, this is not a tournament of what ifs - once the penalty was committed, the US charged forward on eagles’ wings with aggression, speed, and perseverance. The US players refused to earn anything less than three points.
Here are some key takeaways from the yanks’ performance.
Leaders Show Up
After poor performances from the leaders, this game the US veterans answered the call emphatically. At moments it looked like Jones physically willed everyone else to elevate their game. A loose pass would get away from a player or a deflection would cause a corner kick and Commander Jones would erupt in frustration. He refused to let anyone off the hook last night; he led by example. In his man of the match performance, Jones exhibited incredible energy for an old grizzled vet; he never stopped running and remained active, both offensively and defensively, across the entire pitch. He supported the back with defensive resilience and took his chance when it came his way with a low, beautifully placed shot.
As Jones played drums, Dempsey played maestro. Dempsey worked well in the space he was given, threaded multiple beautiful passes, and had a creative spring in his step that reminded everyone what he is still capable of. The Texan’s legs are looking a little weary and questions of fitness might emerge, but with the right rest that should not be a problem. There were concerns over Dempsey’s spot in the team and Dempsey responded.
Defense Growing Ever Stronger
John Brooks was a top three player on the night against Costa Rica, coming off a USA man of the match performance against Colombia. He is growing in stature and in confidence. The 6’4″ wall at the back is basically winning everything in the air, suffocating attackers, and making critical stops on the edge and in the box. In the 61st minute Brooks even showed off some tekkers as he skillfully avoided pressure in his own box and calmly slipped the ball to left back, Fabian Johnson. A foolish yellow card at the end of the game marred what would have been close to a complete performance. Cameron is playing well as the second center back - his relationship with Brooks continues to blossom. It’s relaxing not having to worry every time the opponents get near the box, isn’t it?
The wingbacks worked well with the central defenders and contributed much more effectively with the attack than they did against Colombia. Yedlin made good recovery runs, however he should not put himself in those positions in the first place. It was, however, his eighth minute cross that led to the push and penalty goal. Johnson did nothing beautifully but not much poorly - he was ice cold on both sides of the halfway line. Ice cold - the Johnson we know and the Johnson we like.
Final Third Concerns
After a 4-0 win, the line “final third concerns” might look comical. Unfortunately, it’s all too serious. While Dempsey played exceptionally, he created more as he dropped deeper; Dempsey will never be a target striker. As wingers, Wood and Zardes disappointed again on the attacking side of the ball. Wood’s finish, in his best position, was splendid, but the score line should have read 5, or 6, to 0 at halftime, not 3-0. Gyasi’s work rate continues to earn admiration, but it’s impossible to look beyond his first touch and ability in tight spaces. These flaws transform solid chances into cringes and face palms. On the touchline and at the edge of the box Zardes often looked lost. He blasted a shot over the bar and struck wayward passes which turned counter attacks into forced recoveries. All in all, the LA Galaxy player had a fine game - the criticism is a testament to how well the rest of the US played.
Like Zardes, Wood seemed shaky throughout the game and could not find a killer pass or utilize a strong counter attack. Multiple times the two players misplaced passes which withered attacks into regret.
If the US does make it out of the group, the opponents get significantly more challenging; this means not as many chances. The wingers need more potency. Work rate and recovery are all well and good, but they need to create openings, take shots, and force corners. Zardes and Wood need to stop wasting possession and chances.
Recommendation: Do Not Take the Paraguay Game Lightly
With the win against Paraguay, Colombia has made it through the group, which means that they will experiment a little against Costa Rica. This still is no reason to fear - at all. Assuming a US-Paraguay tie, Costa Rica needs to beat Colombia by six or more goals in order to advance. Impossible? No. Highly, highly improbable. You betcha.
The US-Paraguay game is a little more complex. Advance and we are through, tie and we are through (assuming Costa Rica doesn’t win by six). So it looks easy, doesn’t it? Wrong. This Copa America has shown the spectrum of emotion and how easily the pendulum swings. It is easy for everyone to enter the pits of despair after a loss and then sing at the top of the world after a win. Momentum is fickle and form often false. It’s easy to get carried away, but the US program must remain focused this week.
Paraguay is no joke. The team scrapped with Colombia for ninety minutes yesterday and came away with a goal to show for it. They want to move on just as badly as the US does - a win will take them there. Remember, with a loss, the US are out.
USMNT Line up for Paraguay (4-3-3)
Klinsmann won’t switch the front, so why predict something different - even if one may disagree. Nagbe replaces Bedoya, not for Bedoya’s lack of performance - Ale’s performance was actually quite good on Monday - but because of injury concern. Bedoya limped off in the second half last game and it may be wise to rest him. Nagbe deserves the opportunity to take his chance in the starting eleven.
The USA side looks stronger. The team is more cohesive, using time on the ball more effectively, making intelligent passes, and finding creative outlets. Optimism is good and justified. However, Paraguay is better than the Costa Rica team fielded on Monday. This is no walk in the park. Saturday night will be a battle, and everyone involved with the USMNT must treat it like one. If the US plays their game they will move on. Take the chances, do not waste possession in the final third, work hard defensively and exercise patience. Overall, the team looks happy, confident, and they’re having fun. Now go and light it up in Philly, ya damn Yankees.