But it will need at least a draw Saturday in Philadelphia against Paraguay, which gave Colombia a scare after quickly going two goals down.
A ticket to the quarterfinals would be confirmation for
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the progress he says the team has made. But what would a defeat mean?
"I think that the team understands perfectly how the situation looks, that we have to get things done," Klinsmann said at the post-game press conference in Chicago after the win over Costa Rica. "They gave everything they have. They know now they've put ourselves back in the driver's seat with that result tonight."
A win over Paraguay will clinch a berth in the final. If the USA ties Paraguay, it will still likely advance. But it will need to wait for two hours to see if Costa Rica can do the impossible and beat Colombia by six or more goals. (Unlike most FIFA tournaments and Euro 2016, the final games of each group are not played simultaneously.)
A loss to Costa Rica -- the idea of which is laughable in retrospect -- would have eliminated the USA, something Klinsmann never considered.
"For us," he said, "it's not a thought, 'What if we would lose the game?' We never think that way. Some comments today were, 'What if you lose that game?' Why would you think that way? It's three games; find a way to get your points."
Klinsmann said his players know where they stand and repeated his insistence that the USA played Colombia "even" despite the final score: a 2-0 loss.
“I see a team progressing," he said. "I see a team that badly wants to prove itself with these caliber teams in the Copa America. It was a very, very encouraging performance by us against Colombia. Obviously, the result, especially here in the U.S., that’s all that matters to a lot of people."
Results, perhaps not the Colombia result on its own, certainly matter to Klinsmann's boss, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.
“Talking about something other than results is too easy because style is in the eye of the beholder,” Gulati said in a discussion with a group of reporters before the game. “Results are the top of the list.”
Gulati's remarks suggested for the first time that short-term goals -- like qualification for the quarterfinals at the Copa Centenario -- will determine Klinsmann's future even if another World Cup is on the horizon.
“Our expectation is to win tonight and to win Saturday, and to get through,” Gulati said Tuesday afternoon. “Heartbreak and third place doesn’t do the trick.”