U.S. men overwhelm Costa Rica, face Paraguay for Copa advancement.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, June 7, 2016) -- The United States men cruised to a relatively easy 4-0 victory over Costa Rica tonight in its second Group A match of Copa America Centenario in front of 39,642 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Americans, whose prospects were looking dim after a subpar effort in an opening 2-0 loss to Colombia, now can advance to the second round with a win or most likely a draw Saturday against Paraguay in Philadelphia.
Colombia (2-0-0, 6 points) clinched advancement to the quarterfinals by defeating Paraguay 2-1 tonight. The U.S. (1-1-0, 4 points, plus-2 goal differential) faces Paraguay (0-1-1, minus-1) Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1 and Spanish-language UniMás.
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsman stuck with the same 11 players and the 4-3-3 formation he used against Colombia. The difference tonight was the U.S. was the dominant team in the midfield with both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones producing strong efforts. One major difference was the Americans, ranked 31 in world governing body FIFA’s rankings, faced No. 23 Costa Rica instead of third-ranked Colombia.
It was expected that the U.S. would come out strong but, in reality, it was the Ticos who pushed forward from the beginning and had the Americans on their heels. Then, the Americans got a break and their first time with the ball near the penalty area
U.S. striker Bobby Wood was pushed down from behind in the box right in front of referee Roddy Zambrano, who did not hesitate calling the penalty kick. In the ninth minute, fellow forward Clint Dempsey confidently struck the penalty into the right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead, very much against the run of play.
The U.S. then won the match over the next 20 minutes, taking control of the midfield. Jones was everywhere, attacking, then getting back twice to break up Costa Rican counters. Bradley made the kind of confident passes one has come to expect from him, while Wood caused trouble for the Costa Rica defense.
It was Jones who scored the second goal for the U.S. in the 37th minute. Dempsey charged out of the back down the middle and fed Jones on the left flank. He hit a perfect shot that curled perfectly beyond the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton for Jones’ fourth international tally.
Wood combined well with Jones and defender Fabian Johnson to put the match out of reach at 3-0 in the 41st minute. He took a pass from Dempsey with his back to the goal about 12 yards out. He turned on a pair of defenders and shot low inside a post with the kind of strike he has been making all season for his German club Union Berlin, where he had 17 regular-season goals.
The second half turned into a U.S. exercise in game management. The formation gradually changed into a more defensive conventional 4-4-2 and the Americans simply absorbed pressure from Costa Rica without giving the Ticos many good looks at goal.
Costa Rica kept sending balls high into the penalty area where they were gobbled up by the U.S. defense or easily handled by keeper Brad Guzan.
Substitute midfielder Graham Zusi put some icing on the cake when, in the 87th minute, he stripped a Costa Rican defender, ran to the top of the box and converted for the final 4-0 margin.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 6: He was only called on to make a pair of saves, but he patrolled his area well, worked with his central defenders controlling high balls sent into the box and earned his clean sheet.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6: We can still argue he is more naturally an attacking midfielder and his biggest contributions tonight was when he pushed forward with Jones and Wood, but he did make the defensive stops he had to and had an all-around solid game.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: He combined well with Brooks to form a solid middle. He covered a bit more ground, but was still in position to win several air duels. He is looking healthy which is a big positive for the U.S.
Defender John Brooks - 6.5: He seemed more relaxed then he had against Colombia. He was very strong controlling high balls in the area and moved well to the outside, covering for Johnson who was pushed upfield. He made some key tackles tonight.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin - 5.5: He also was better than he was against Colombia, but he was facing a lesser opponent. He made fewer errors and enjoyed a strong defensive night, and was able to work the ball out of trouble when it was needed.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6: His name does not appear on the score sheet, but he well could have scored himself or assisted if things had gone just a bit better. He moved well all night and was a constant threat in a better-than-satisfying effort.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7: He played a deeper more defensive position in front of the back-line than against Colombia, Bradley was able to move the ball easily and transition to offense. His passes resulted in two of the U.S. goals and other chances. This is the role he is most comfortable in and when he plays as he did tonight, it is his most effective role.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 7: Simply the best player tonight. He worked tirelessly in the middle, defending well and then pushing forward strongly. His goal, all too rare, was as well taken as could be expected. Now the question is how much does he have left in his 34-year-old tank.
Forward Bobby Wood - 6: Given the stylish goal he scored on the turn with his back to goal opens the question if he shouldn’t be playing more in the middle and not coming in from the wing. But as he showed tonight, from the middle, he opens up defenses. He was strong until being replaced for some defensive help.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6.5: He buried the penalty to get the U.S. started. He worked hard at times in a defensive role in the middle when Costa Rica pushed forward. He probably should have had another goal, but what he did was very much key to the American win.
Forward Gyasi Zardes - 6: He did not score, but he worked tirelessly up and down the flank, at times dropping well back to help the defense while also participating in the attack. His high work rate helped the U.S. considerably.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (70th minute for Wood) - 6: He came in to shore up the U.S. defense against a final Tico effort. He did that and more, including notching an unassisted goal, one of the best by an American in a while.
Forward Chris Wondolowski (78th minute for Dempsey) - 5.5: On as a forward but very much in a defensive role, he made several defensive stops over the final10 minutes.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman (83rd minute for Bedoya) - 5.5: Not a long night, but he fell naturally into the sweeper role with his fresh legs.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Jermaine Jones.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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