If Klinsmann stuck with the same lineup, there was a reason. His players had begun to gel: Wood
and Clint Dempsey working off of each other up front, Jones and Michael Bradley looking comfortable -- for once -- in midfield, Geoff Cameron and John Brooks forming the
best center-back partnership of the tournament and the wingers helping out the outside backs, minimizing, against Ecuador, some top-of-the-line threats down the wings.
In goal, Brad Guzan has come up big when he's needed to, but it's been only once or twice a game, nothing like the 16 saves his predecessor, Tim Howard, had to make in the onslaught he faced against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup.
Throughout the Copa Centenario, Klinsmann has talked about how he wants the USA to move away from bunker mentality -- our words -- that forced it to sit back and defend for the last two games of the World Cup against Germany and Belgium. He says his players have been growing and maturing.
"They pushed them back," he said in reference to the Ecuador game but he could have been talking about any game at the Copa Centenario. "They made them work also defensively and that's another step forward from two years ago. We pushed the game back into the other half, and make them work the same way as well."
There is a reason for the new approach. It begins with better players and players playing better, or both.
Bedoya isn't a flashy player, but he is certainly a much better player than two years ago, coming off his best season yet at Nantes in France. Jones is getting up in years, but he is off to a great start with his new MLS club, the Colorado Rapids.
Wood has been the revelation. We all knew of his scoring prowess from his winning goals against the Netherlands and Germany last year to his record-setting season (17 goals) in the German second division at Union Berlin, but his ability to take on defenders and force them out of position is the biggest difference between the USA of today and two years ago in Brazil. It was no surprise that Wood had huge roles in both U.S. goals against Ecuador or tormented Paraguay last Saturday in Philadelphia.
Klinsmann loves to talk about how his players -- those he selects -- are givers. For Wood after Thursday's game, he had more praise.
"In Bobby Wood," he said, "we have a player -- a warrior -- working all over the field, giving everything for the team. On top of that, he's damn dangerous."
The best compliment to say about Wood is that the Argentina (or Venezuela) defense will be very relieved to hear he won't be available on Tuesday.
But it all unraveled for the USA in the 52nd minute when Jones was red carded. It was just his bad luck that Brooks shoved Michael Arroyo in the back, so when the Ecuadoran turned around to shove back Jones was right there. Both players had their hands up. Jones' left got Arroyo in the face, however slightly. Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan didn't see it, but the fourth official, Brazilian Wilton Sampaio did, and Jones was gone.
Jones' red card was easily avoidable -- he didn't have to jump into the mess -- just like Wood's yellow card -- his second yellow card of the tournament -- just a minute later for a foolish foul was avoidable. Did Wood have any regrets? "It's an emotional game," he said. "It's a big game. That stuff happens."
Later in the second half, it was Bedoya's turn to pick up his second yellow card, keeping him out of Tuesday's game. "It's tough," he said. "It sucks. We knew going into the game some of us were on yellow cards. Who cares? We miss the semis? We won the game."
The good news is that the USA has more depth than it has had in a long time. Klinsmann could replace Bedoya, Jones and Wood with three players -- Yedlin, Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi -- and not even get to Darlington Nagbe or Christian Pulisic, who'd still be available off the bench.
"Obviously," said Klinsmann, "we're going to miss Ale and we're going to miss Bobby for the semifinal. Not easy, but I think it's a team that has so much desire to grind it out."
That might be, but the USA showed it could do better than simply "grind it out," and it will now be a lot harder.
For that reason, how things began to unravel in the 52nd minute is a damn shame.