Beating anyone 4-0 in a major international tournament is a big deal. No matter the stakes or the sides. It’s a statement of purpose and a rallying cry. That is exactly what the USMNT did against their dearly beloved rivals, Costa Rica. Los Ticos were coming off a drab draw to Paraguay and the USMNT was coming off a hugely disappointing loss to Colombia.
It all started so horribly wrong. Jurgen Klinsmann, after having said (he actually said this) that he was happy with how the team played against Colombia, the mad German sent out the exact same squad against Costa Rica. Not a single change was made. The exhausted Jermaine Jones was lined up side by side with the blind Michael Bradley. The disoriented Geoff Cameron was sat in next to the enigmatic Dandre Yedlin.
Nothing changed. There was no Darlington Nagbe. There was no Christian Pulisic.
And for seven minutes, it looked like a disaster was about to strike. The USMNT went down one within the first ten minutes against Colombia and it sucked the life out of them. If Los Ticos could manage the same, the USMNT would be eliminated less than a week into the competition and Klinsmann would have popped a squat on the hot seat.
But that didn’t happen. A penalty call from a slightly embellished push by Bobby Wood granted the USMNT a break and Clint Dempsey put the goal away.
After that moment, it’s like someone turned the lights on. Bradley wasn’t a liability. Jones was a tank. Zardes was everywhere. Dempsey was (still) a monster all over the pitch. It’s like all of a sudden they believed in themselves.
And then it occurred to me. Could confidence really mean that much to this team? Playing against Colombia, there were some pleasant patches, but never anything that would warrant concern from a Colombian perspective. It was the exact same for the first seven minutes in Chicago. The USMNT looked lost. Jones looked tired. Bradley was irrelevant.
That single goal changed absolutely everything. It made the USMNT a rootin’ tootin’ gunslingin’ outlaw that was firing on all cylinders and hitting everything in sight. The game quickly got out of hand, as Jones – that tired Jones I keep mentioning – put in a fantastic effort to double the lead. Then Bobby Wood wheeled on a dime and snuck one in, near post.
It was like everything made sense. They remembered how to play and they made it look easy.
The USMNT dismantled a team that put on a show in the World Cup. Los Ticos are a good team, make no mistake about it. But the USMNT destroyed them.
It all starts with confidence. And now they have it.