CHICAGO - This, finally, was the awakening that U.S. national soccer team fans have been waiting for.
With the pressure on the program at the highest level of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure, the Americans rose to the moment with a resounding 4-0 win over Costa Rica on Tuesday night at Soldier Field.
That pressure came not only from knowing that the game was a must-win if the United States was to have any hope of reaching the Copa America Centenario's knockout stages. It also was fueled by pregame remarks from U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati that implied Klinsmann's job might be on thin ice.
Speaking to a group of reporters invited to U.S. Soccer's headquarters, Gulati made it clear that he has not been satisfied with Klinsmann's work in recent games of consequence.
"Results of the last 18 months, overall, haven't been what we would have hoped for - especially in the official competitions," Gulati said, referring to last year's Gold Cup, recent World Cup qualifiers and Friday's Copa America loss. "We have to win games. I didn't say Jurgen has to win games. I said we have to win games. . . . No one has ironclad job security."
If Klinsmann was feeling any heat, it didn't show. As he had hinted about on Monday, he stuck with the same starting lineup as Friday's 2-0 loss to Colombia.
But something changed, especially with Clint Dempsey. Maligned in recent weeks as he struggled with playing at the top of the American attack, on Tuesday night he was the star. He scored the opening goal on a penalty kick in the ninth minute, then sliced up the Costa Rican defense to set up goals by Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood later in the first half.
Graham Zusi capped off the scoring with a solo effort in the 87th minute.
As each goal hit the net, the overwhelmingly pro-American crowd of 39,642 roared its approval - at times, as much out of relief as joy.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, seemed battered. Head coach Oscar Ramirez withdrew star forward Joel Campbell at the start of the second half, perhaps wanting to save him for Saturday's showdown with group favorite Colombia in Houston.
That game will be played after the United States' group stage finale against Paraguay at Lincoln Financial Field. Both contests will have high stakes in a group that is suddenly wide open.
"Now we've put ourselves back in the driver's seat with the result tonight," Klinsmann said. "Make the calculation after three games [in the group stage], and hopefully you have enough points to get through."
While those pregame remarks from Gulati still loom large, there's finally a sense that Klinsmann's team is on track to get the job done.