Embattled Manager Not Using Pulisic And Nagbe During 4-0 Destruction Of Costa Rica Reeked Of Self-Preservation

By Sean Hartnett
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What a difference one game makes.

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The Americans were under an avalanche of pressure Tuesday night in Chicago but delivered a top-drawer performance, routing Costa Rica 4-0 in their second Copa America match, just a few days after a mistake-prone tournament-opening defeat to Colombia.

Prior to the victory, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati refused to guarantee Jurgen Klinsmann’s future. The American manager elected not to make changes to his starting XI, but that faith paid off in stunning fashion as his players backed their boss with a rousing effort at Solider Field.

Jermaine Jones was a marauding presence, putting in a sensational box-to-box performance. He was everywhere on defense and attack, scoring a well-placed goal to double the United States’ advantage to 2-0 after Clint Dempsey converted a ninth-minute penalty. Dempsey worked his magic all night, setting up two other goals. The performance was further proof that the 34-year-old striker is still every bit a big-game player.

Michael Bradley pulled the strings to perfection, completing 90 percent of his passes. Bobby Wood showed how dangerous he can be when he gets quality service. He made a speedy turn and executed a clinical finish in the 42nd minute. Geoff Cameron and John Brooks formed a rock-solid partnership in central defense.

After a slow first eight minutes, the U.S. dictated the play, forcing turnovers and attacking in numbers. Tuesday’s win tied for the second largest margin of victory in Copa America history.

Yet, questions about Klinsmann still remain. There still needs to be evidence of a long-term plan. Klinsmann surprisingly kept 17-year-old wonderkid Christian Pulisic and master creator Darlington Nagbe pinned to the bench instead of handing them much-needed substitute minutes.

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They are the future of the U.S. National Team.

Those actions served as proof of Klinsmann sacrificing the big picture for his own hide. At some point in this tournament, he’s going to need to call on Pulisic and Nagbe when the pressure is on. With a three-goal second-half lead and the result secured, there was every reason for Klinsmann to bring them off the bench to build their confidence.

To be fair, one change by Klinsmann paid off in spades. His switch to a 4-4-2 formation 30 minutes in created extra width and allowed a threatening Wood-Dempsey striking partnership to take shape.

It was a memorable victory, but it doesn’t take any heat off Klinsmann. A loss against Paraguay on Saturday would doom USA to a group stage exit.

The following are the advancing scenarios for the Americans: 1. A win against Paraguay; 2. A draw against Paraguay and a Costa Rica draw/loss against Colombia; 3. A draw against Paraguay and a Costa Rica victory by five goals or less.

USA and Paraguay kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

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Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey