Clint Dempsey (white jersey) has been outstanding in the USA's opening two games in the Copa America Centenario. (Photo: Mexsport)
CHICAGO – Those skeptical of Clint Dempsey’s ability to lead the United States attack may want to reconsider that stance.
The 33-year-old submitted a virtuoso performance as the Americans earned a crucial 4-0 win over CONCACAF-rival Costa Rica on Tuesday in the Copa America Centenario. He scored from the penalty spot, assisted on two other goals and created several additional chances.
When Dempsey made way for Chris Wondolowski in the 78th minute, many in the crowd of 39,642 at Soldier Field gave him a standing ovation.
It was a game the U.S. could not afford to lose. A 2-0 setback to Colombia in the opener left the five CONCACAF Gold Cup champion staring at early elimination. The response to such adversity, though, should serve as a confidence booster ahead of Saturday’s Group A finale against Paraguay.
Not that the philosophical Dempsey ever doubts his team’s ability to compete.
“We perform well even when our backs are not up against the wall,” said the Seattle Sounders standout. “For us to have a chance at staying in this tournament and getting out of our group we need to be united. The work’s not done.”
Part of the job, however, was completed successfully thanks to Dempsey.
“We got a goal, got off to a good start and did a good job attacking them, creating good chances in front of goal,” he commented. “Goals are always huge. Another goal gives you confidence, gives a little bit of breathing room. We needed to keep our foot on the gas and we did that.
“I though we put in a solid performance, got the clean sheet.”
A converted penalty kick by Dempsey -- the 50th goal of his international career -- gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in eighth minute.
“It’s good to be part of that club, getting to 50 goals,” expressed the forward, who was aware of the milestone. “The most important thing is that we got the win tonight and we’re still alive in this tournament.”
During the opening half, Jurgen Klinsmann adjusted the USA’s formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, which – while providing extra defensive coverage down the wings – gave Dempsey more space to operate and pick out teammates with some attentive passes.
“I think just getting the ball in those pockets, being in a position where you can run at the back line and cause problems.” Dempsey commented about the Americans’ ability to break down the Costa Rica defense. “I thought in the 4-3-3 and in the 4-4-2, I was able to do that in the first half.”
Depending on the result of the Colombia-Costa Rica game later on Saturday, the U.S. can advance to the quarterfinals with as little as a draw with the Paraguayans.
Dempsey kept it all in perspective, finishing: “We’ve got one more game. We have to get the job to try to get out of this group.”