How USA Soccer Soared To New Copa America Heights, Thumped Costa Rica In 2016

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June 7, 2016

“Waste not, want not” applies to soccer perhaps more than any other sport.

The United States men’s national soccer team roared back into Copa America 2016 contention Tuesday with a resounding 4-0 victory over Costa Rica. Clint Dempsey led the way with the goal and two assists in the first half, helping Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood turn a must-win game into U.S. soccer’s revival party. The game already was out of reach when Graham Zusi joined the fun by scoring late in the second half, but his goal made the outcome unforgettable for the Copa America 2016 hosts.

The United States ditched history and left last Friday’s loss to Colombia in the same dustbin by submitting a stunning reaction to defeat. The result was Team USA’s largest-ever victory in 34 meetings against CONCACAF rival Costa Rica and its biggest-ever win on the world stage.

Team USA leads Group A on goal difference — pending the outcome of Tuesday night’s Colombia-Paraguay game — and has positioned itself to progress to the quarterfinal. That is, assuming the U.S. can can deliver a similar performance Saturday when it takes on Paraguay in the group finale.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica finds itself stuck in the past, and the form it showed during its surprising run to the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals is gone, perhaps for good.

Here’s how it happened.

Dempsey’s delight
With Team USA’s back against the wall, Dempsey, 33, had one of his best games in his 12-year international career. His ninth-minute goal from the penalty spot was his 50th for Team USA. Only Landon Donovan has scored more with 57.

Dempsey’s early goal eliminated Costa Rica’s early momentum, and his ensuing playmaking highlighted an under-appreciated element of his game.

Coming in to the tournament, we wrote Team USA will only go as far as Dempsey, Jones and the other veterans take it. If Dempsey and Co. keep this up, Team USA will likely remain in the tournament for the knockout rounds.

Killer instinct
Wasting chances is one of soccer’s cardinal sins. Team USA made the most of their opportunities and might have scored more if Gyasi Zardes had shown more composure in front of goal.

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Costa Rica’s shortcomings
Patrick Pemberton is Costa Rica’s starting goalkeeper because Keylor Navas, who helped Real Madrid win the UEFA Champions League final on penalty kicks last month, is injured. We don’t need Hope Solo to tell us Navas would have saved the long-distance shots on which Jones and Wood scored. Dempsey might not have scored on Navas from the penalty spot. Costa Rica’s first-choice goalkeeper is that good.

Pemberton was anything but good against the United States, conceding two goals at the near post, a big “no no” for goalkeepers anywhere.

Impact substitutions
Costa Rica made all three personnel changes by halftime.

Zusi scored in a substitute appearance. Kyle Beckerman made a goal-line clearance seconds after replacing Alejandro Bedoya.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann used untested Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic as his first two substitutions against Colombia. Klinsmann’s reliance on veterans helped his team manage Costa Rica’s brief second-half charge.

The game situations were vastly different from each other, but so were the contributions of the U.S. players who entered the fray in-game.

Review our USA-Costa Rica live blog >>

Thumbnail photo via Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Jun 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; United States midfielder Jermaine Jones (13) reacts after scoring a goal against Costa Rica in the first half during the group play stage of the 2016 Copa America Centenario. at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
United States men's national soccer team
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