Fans could be forgiven for bemoaning the Starting XIs when they were released prior to the United States' second match in the Copa America Centenario. The cast of characters looked awfully familiar - identical to the squad that fell 2-0 to Colombia in the first match of the tournament.
As is often the case when things don't go Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's way, fingers were pointing every which way. Michael Bradley was no stranger to the criticism, with many fans frustrated with Bradley's middling performance and the role he was instructed to play on the field. Expectations were high, hype enshrouded the USA's younger battalion (namely Christian Pulisic & Darlington Nagbe) who were again riding the bench, and the natives were restless for change they didn't receive.
And so when the match kicked off and CRC, playing and attacking 5-3-2, looked dangerous, you could practically hear the collective moans ring out around Soldier Field in Chicago.
Then, in the 7th minute, Bobby Wood was pushed in the box, leading to a USA penalty kick. The whole match changed.
A Team Reignited
While CRC continued to get surprising attacking plays off against the USA's scrambling defence in the first half, the Yanks remained organised enough to deny any conversion. Guzan's play in net was especially on point.
Jermaine Jones was a definite sore spot against Colombia, but played like a man on fire against Costa Rica. He scored the US' second goal after forcing the turnover himself and catching up for the dump pass on the left wing, placing the ball just between the keeper and the goalpost.
Played continued as such for the first half, with CRC struggling to create meaningful attacks and the USA forcing turnovers and smart, quick, attacking plays. It hardly looked like the same squad.
When Bobby Wood made it 3-0 before the half on a terrific solo effort, the future of the match looked all but assured. And so, throughout the second half, when the USA absorbed all of Costa Rica's pressure effectively, it was no surprise that the result did not change or look in doubt. Whereas the USMNT's first match was marred by inconsistency and confusion, this game was a steady beating drum.
The USA finished 4-0, following a late match turnover-and-shot from Graham Zusi.
How did Michael Bradley do?
Our beloved Designated Player stepped up his performance significantly over the Colombia match. While he didn't provide any direct Assists to the scoring frenzy, his impact was felt up and down the pitch.
You could actually see it in his hustle. Bradley was sprinting on defensive coverage to keep pace, tracking loose balls, and staying toe-to-toe with Costa Rica's high line. In the opening minutes, when the US looked in trouble, Bradley was a big reason the Americans managed to keep it together, switching coverage and double-timing his efforts when the squad was confused and out of sorts.
Klinsmann repeated his placement of Bradley as a CDM of sorts, but we all know Michael likes to break box-to-box when he can, and he certainly had a few forward looks. But this time Bradley was more comfortable leaning back into his role with Jermaine Jones stepping up his game on the attacking left.
Bradley continued to play the strong parts of his game even better. He found the smart passes and switched the play when it was needed. He continually found open space to setup advancement on the wings. A few of his long balls were lacking, in the end, but he provided fairly consistent service off dead balls and corners throughout the match.
As for the intangibles, Bradley was a quiet, consistent source of leadership on the field. He was less fiery than in matches past, perhaps because many calls went the Americans' way, but he presented himself to his team as a mature captain as a result.
The USMNT has Paraguay in Philadelphia this Saturday, June 11, to close out the group stage. The fate of the US is in their own hands, with Paraguay and Costa Rica clinging to one point each in the bottom half of the quad.
Colombia's success in the group is all but assured. If the USA can squeeze out even a favourable draw, odds are good they'll advance. And if Bradley and Co. can repeat their Match 2 performance, TFC might not be getting their star midfielder back anytime soon.