Veterans Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore lead way in skillful U.S. performance
When it counted most, and against the best team it has played thus far in the tournament, the United States rose to the occasion with a 2-0 win over Costa Rica at AT&T Stadium on Saturday night. The victory books the Americans' place in the 2017 Gold Cup final on Wednesday in Santa Clara, California.
This was the best performance by the Americans in the competition so far, and by a wide margin. The energy was there from the outset as Jordan Morris rattled the post with a shot in the first 30 seconds of the game. The U.S. went on to dominate possession and control the proceedings throughout. Thanks to some smart defending and Tim Howard in goal, Costa Rica was unable to make its few chances count. Clint Dempsey's introduction in the final half-hour changed the game and again showed why he remains so important to the USMNT.
A lack of sharpness in the final third threatened to overshadow the improvement in play for Bruce Arena's team. Until Dempsey arrived as a substitute, the U.S. struggled to connect the last pass and make the Ticos sweat. Energy and effort delivered very little for more than an hour despite the wide advantage in possession.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Arena's lineup choices worked well and his substitutions made the difference. For the first time in the Gold Cup, his team looked ready to play and was tactically deployed to take advantage of an opponent's weaknesses. Pushing his full-backs high pinned Costa Rica back on the wings, a smart approach considering their injury issues. Feeling the need for creativity in midfield, he turned to the best option the U.S. has in Dempsey. He was also rewarded for his faith in Jozy Altidore.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best -- players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Tim Howard, 9 -- Made two huge saves when his team needed him. Commanded his box and forced the referee to make calls to his advantage.
DF Graham Zusi, 6.5 -- Did his job sitting high and facilitating possession. Rarely tested on the defensive end due to Costa Rica's lack of wide options.
DF Matt Besler, 8 -- Made one or two errors that amounted to nothing but was otherwise excellent, both defensively and on the ball.
DF Omar Gonzalez, 6.5 -- Beaten for speed on more than one occasion, otherwise good for most of the match. Smart in possession working in tandem with Besler.
DF Jorge Villafana, 6 -- Crossing was mostly poor but runs pushed Costa Rica back and provided options up the field. Bailed out in the second half on a one-on-one slip.
MF Paul Arriola, 7 -- Involved all night on both sides of the ball. Energy and effort helped give the Americans width. Crossing was inconsistent.
MF Michael Bradley, 7.5 -- Was everywhere he needed to be over the course of a 90-minute shift. Lost Brian Ruiz on one run in the first half but otherwise excellent defensively.
MF Kellyn Acosta, 6.5 -- Slightly less aggressive than needed for the moment. Competent but lacked extra edge. Popped up in the final third once or twice with good effect.
MF Darlington Nagbe, 8 -- Consistently the most dangerous and adventurous player on the field for the U.S. on Saturday night. Used his dribbling ability to soften up the visitors but whiffed on a golden scoring chance, his one major error.
FW Jordan Morris, 7.5 -- Provided necessary runs off the ball to open up space during his run at forward. Good defensively after move to the wing post-Dempsey sub.
FW Jozy Altidore, 8 -- Scored a goal (on an excellent finish) but provided much more than that over the course of the night. Stepped up his game in the second half and added defensive work when needed.
MF Clint Dempsey, NR -- The Man of the Match in a 25-minute substitute appearance. Set up the first American goal, scored the second and tied the all-time USMNT goal-scoring record in the process.
MF Gyasi Zardes, NR -- Got in the attacking third during his cameo but made a couple of poor decisions on the ball.
MF Dax McCarty, NR -- Stepped out of midfield to help create a turnover that nearly led to a U.S. scoring chance. Helped see out the game.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.