The United States stepped up when it mattered most, keeping their Copa America Centenario hopes alive with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Costa Rica in Group A.
Outplayed 2-0 by Colombia in their opening game last week, doom and gloom hovered over USA heading to Soldier Field in Chicago on Tuesday.
But Clint Dempsey scored his 50th international goal, while Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood were also on target in a devastating display of counter-attacking football in the first half as USA boosted their quarter-final hopes at the centenary tournament.
After USA withstood an early onslaught, Dempsey showed his experience from the penalty spot with just under 10 minutes played as he brought up a half-century of international goals at the same stadium where he scored his first.
Jones then produced a long-range effort for the highlights reel after the half-hour mark, Hamburg-bound forward Wood made it 3-0 in the 43rd minute before substitute Graham Zusi completed the rout with three minutes of regulation time remaining as Costa Rica were left searching for their first competitive win on USA soil since 1985.
Despite losing their opening game, USA remained unchanged as coach Jurgen Klinsmann kept faith in his starting XI.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 7, 2016
Costa Rica were forced into a change, with Francisco Calvo coming in for the suspended Kendall Waston, while Christian Bolanos replaced Yeltsin Tejeda.
— FEDEFUTBOL (@FEDEFUTBOL_CR) June 7, 2016
Billed as a “must-win clash” for USA, anxiety and tension were evident throughout the stadium prior to kick-off and the Costa Ricans made a frenetic start as they attempted to heap further misery on the host nation, who had lost their past two matches to their CONCACAF rivals.
But it all went wrong for Costa Rica from the ninth minute as Dempsey emphatically converted a penalty after Wood was pushed in the back by Cristian Gamboa.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 8, 2016
That opened the floodgates as USA tore Costa Rica apart on the counter-attack, with Gyasi Zardes and Dempsey wreaking havoc.
Jones made it 2-0 when he curled a low shot into the corner of the net after Costa Rica surrendered possession and Dempsey weaved his way past two opponents to tee up the veteran midfielder.
The match was then put beyond doubt three minutes before half-time, with Wood producing a sublime touch, turn and strike to leave goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton helpless.
Surprisingly, Oscar Ramirez withdrew star forward Joel Campbell at the break, seemingly conceding defeat as Costa Rica went in search of a goal.
Costa Rica still managed an improved performance in the second half, carving up USA in the 55th minute but Celso Borges was unable to keep his effort under the bar after being played in by captain Bryan Ruiz.
USA should have made it 4-0 with 17 minutes remaining but Alejandro Bedoya’s ball across the six-yard box was nipped away from Zardes at the last moment, while Kyle Beckerman made a crucial clearance to deny Costa Rica a late consolation with an empty goal at their mercy.
Klinsmann and Co. did eventually score a fourth, with Zusi coming off the bench to add some gloss to the scoreline in the 87th minute, firing a low effort beyond Pemberton.