Much of the talk surrounding the United States men's national team entering the Copa America Centenario was about the dynamic young players in the squad. But in Tuesday's 4-0 win over Costa Rica, the old guard—led by Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones—proved why it is a fixture in Jurgen Klinsmann's starting XI.
Dempsey opened the scoring from the spot in the ninth minute and handed out a pair of assists on the first-half strikes Jones and Bobby Wood netted.
Jones, who has breathed new life into his career in an advanced role at club level with the Colorado Rapids, was the other top playmaker in the final third for the USMNT at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The showings from the 33-year-old Dempsey and 34-year-old Jones proved the old guard is still able to compete at the highest level despite the infusion of youth into the 23-man squad. The big-game experience both players carry was key Tuesday as the Yanks faced elimination from the tournament.
In addition to staring at a possible early exit, they were under added pressure from U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who made some telling remarks ahead of the contest, per Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald:
Jonathan Tannenwald @thegoalkeeper
Sunil Gulati: "We need to win a few games... I didn't say Jurgen has to win games. I said we did. No one has ironclad job security."2016-6-7 21:45:09
The Americans didn't start the match on good terms as Costa Rica bossed the ball thanks to a high press, but once Dempsey slotted his penalty into the right side of the net, the USMNT veterans began to take over.
Dempsey, one of the few players who turned in a decent performance in the 2-0 loss to Colombia on Friday, was able to drop deep, hold possession and create chances in the final third with his passing. By the time the opening stanza reached its conclusion, he had four key passes. The entire team had six against Colombia, per OptaJack:
4 - #USMNT @clint_dempsey has four key passes already in tonight's game. The entire team had only six key passes against Colombia. Creative.2016-6-8 00:47:50
Jones' first 45 minutes produced a few gems as well. He started the buildup to his 37th-minute goal by forcing a turnover in the Costa Rica half.
As Dempsey surged toward the box, Jones made a run toward the left side of the penalty area. The midfielder benefited from his movement when the Seattle Sounders man was cut off during his foray into the box. All Jones had to do once he picked up the ball was take one touch and fire a shot into the net's bottom-right corner.
After the match, Klinsmann noted the added fire Dempsey and Jones provided, per Goal's Thomas Floyd:
Thomas Floyd @thomasfloyd10
Klinsmann on Dempsey and Jones: "They have enough left in the tank. We just have to fill it up with the right fuel." #USMNT2016-6-8 02:43:45
Jones continued to display his superb skills as the second half progressed, distributing a few immaculate balls to teammates during the search for the USMNT's fourth goal. Jones' best pass came in the 73rd minute, when he placed the ball perfectly at Alejandro Bedoya's feet.
Bedoya opted to be a little too unselfish, and the move did not result in a strike. Six minutes later, Jones sprung substitute Graham Zusi on goal with another impressive pass from right to left.
Jones' ability to surge forward was helped by the calming presence of Michael Bradley, who recovered from a poor start to the tournament with a solid 90-minute shift against the Ticos. With the Toronto FC man providing stability in front of the back four, Jones had a license to go forward and create opportunities.
The Yanks also benefited from two Costa Rica changes. When Marcos Urena left the pitch in the 18th minute, they lost a bit of their creativity in the final third since Alvaro Saborio is not as crafty as he used to be. Joel Campbell's exit at the start of the second half also allowed the Stars and Stripes to move forward without too many concerns.
Urena and Campbell may not have brought the Ticos back from a few goals down, but they certainly would've provided more of a threat to the USMNT defense.
While most of the praise will be heaped on Dempsey and Jones, and rightfully so, some of the youngsters in the squad continued to prove their worth as well. Despite some shaky moments at the back, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin made a slew of impressive tackles to quell the Costa Rica threat.
One of Yedlin's best moments came in the 14th minute, when he made two successive recovery runs to bust up the Ticos attack.
Brooks shined for the second consecutive game thanks to his growing confidence and chemistry alongside Geoff Cameron. The 23-year-old Hertha Berlin man rarely made a wrong step during his 90 minutes on the pitch.
Wood also found himself in the spotlight for his 42nd-minute strike from the middle of the box after Klinsmann had shifted to a 4-4-2 formation, which favors his strengths as a center forward.
By no means are the young players of the USMNT ready to take the reins without any veterans in the squad. Dempsey and Jones are still valuable cogs to the machine that ran on all cylinders in a meaningful game for the first time since a World Cup qualifying win over Guatemala in March. That victory was also fueled by a pair of veterans in Kyle Beckerman and Cameron.
At some point, Klinsmann has to find a way to win without playing Dempsey, Jones and Co. in key roles. That time may come before the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but in order to make a deep run at the Copa on home soil, the USMNT needs the presence of its experienced players.
Joe Tansey covers U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JTansey90.