Klinsmann's strong response to growing questions about his USMNT future

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann watches during a Copa America Centenario group A soccer match against Costa Rica at Soldier Field in Chicago, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In the days and hours leading up to the United States men's national team's 4-0 destruction of Costa Rica, the pressure had risen to a boiling point.

The pressure on head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The pressure on forward Clint Dempsey. The pressure on midfielder Jermaine Jones.

[ Dempsey leads U.S. rout | USA vs. Costa Rica Live | Match statistics ]

Klinsmann was in real danger of flaming out of a second major tournament in a row, following Friday's 2-0 loss to Colombia in the U.S.'s Copa America Centenario opener. Dempsey didn't seem to fit in the new playing style and may have, at 33, been past it. Jones, who is 34, has never quite convinced the entirety of the American fan base and got particularly strong criticism after the Cafeteros cruised to their win.

Just hours before the game, U.S. Soccer president and longtime Klinsmann benefactor Sunil Gulati had told several reporters that patience was wearing thin on the most richly-compensated manager in the program's history – by a factor of three or four.

[ Copa America Centenario | Scores and Schedule | Standings | Teams ]

"Results are what matter – everyone understands that," said Gulalti, according to ESPN FC. "The results over the last 18 months, overall, have not been what we would've hoped for – especially in the official competitions."

"It's the official competitions that matter the most, and we haven't been up to where we'd like to be," Gulati continued. "We'll look at everything at the end of this competition. … My expectation is certainly to win tonight and to win on Saturday to get through [the group stage]. A heartbreaking third place doesn't do the trick."

Klinsmann, he said, had performed adequately in his other job for U.S. Soccer, yet that might be insufficient.

"There are things, overall, in his role as technical director, we think we've made good advances on," Gulati said. "But we need to win games, and we need to win games in competitive play. We haven't broken through to match up well against the world's elite. There's short-term goals and long-term goals. The reality is in the business we're in, and specifically in the business coaches are in, you don't get to see through too many long-term goals if you don't hit the short-term goals."

Tuesday's match against Costa Rica was a must-win game. For the USMNT. And perhaps for Klinsmann's hold on his job, too.

The ice was getting perilously thin underneath the incorrigibly upbeat German. Last year's semifinal ouster by Jamaica in the Gold Cup hasn't yet been forgotten. Neither has the lost Confederations Cup playoff with Mexico. Nor the mostly dour performances in early World Cup qualifying.

But on Tuesday, the Americans caught a break early on. In a manic start in which the Yanks wobbled a few times as Costa Rica pressed ferociously and had quick chances, Bobby Wood was shoved down in the box by Cristian Gamboa to earn a penalty in just the seventh minute.

And after half an hour, the American attack began to pick the Ticos apart with Dempsey pulling the strings. In the 37th minute, he ran at the defense and laid off for Jermaine Jones – possibly by accident with a heavy touch; probably by accident, actually – and the German-American curled it into the far bottom corner. Then five minutes later, Dempsey set up Bobby Wood at the edge of the box to make it 3-0.

In the span of a half, the U.S. had dismantled perhaps the best back line in the region, as Costa Rica conceded more goals in the 42 minutes than it had in an entire game in more than two years. The Ticos failed to get on the scoreboard in the second half, too, hitting the post and watching a ball somehow stay out on the goal line. And Graham Zusi got another for the Americans late on to make it the biggest USA win over Costa Rica ever.

Suddenly, the U.S. is in pretty good shape for a spot in the quarterfinals – the minimum requirement. A win over Paraguay on Saturday will do the trick. A tie might as well, depending on other results.

As for Dempsey, his goal-and-two-assist outburst reaffirmed his merit for the starting lineup, even though the 4-3-3 system plainly doesn't suit him and he isn't as reliably influential as he once was. Then there was Jones, with his toil up and down the field, forced turnovers as ball recoveries were the catalyst for the Americans' dominance from the fifth minute onward. He made amends as well.

Some question remains over whether the structural problems the U.S. has contended with – the shortage of chances created; the lack of an effective distributor high up the field; the habit of getting pinned back by better teams – have truly been solved. You could easily argue that the Americans got the better bounces on Tuesday. That they converted half-chances, a strategy that isn't sustainable over the long term.

You could also point out that the passing actually regressed statistically from the Colombia game.

But the Americans would not be deflated after an emphatic win. They needed it badly. And as so often in the team's history, they only began landing punches when they were cornered.

"It confirms the spirit of the group," Klinsmann said of the victory. "The spirit is excellent. They're there for each other. The whole bench is jumping up and down. Everybody wants to have the other one doing well. So it's a good group of guys that we have together."

"For us, really, it's not a thought, 'What if we would lose the game?' " Klinsmann added. "We never think that way."

Klinsmann, for now at least, survives. And Dempsey and Jones demonstrated that, even if they aren't their younger selves every day anymore, they still belong, too.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.