Jurgen Klinsmann vowed that his United States team wouldn't play for a tie against Paraguay, even though that would have been enough to advance to the Copa America Centenario knockout round.
The U.S. coach was true to his word in the first half but saw his team back on its heels while playing a man down for most of the second half.
Still, the United States was able to prevail during a spirited, 1-0 win over Paraguay on Saturday night before 51,041 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Realistically needing just a tie to advance, the United States played a man down after 22-year-old defender DeAndre Yedlin received yellow cards in the 47th and 48th minutes, both for unsportsmanlike behavior.
Yedlin's resulting red card will force him to sit out the next game. The United States had six yellow cards compared with three for Paraguay.
"It's awesome," said Clint Dempsey, who scored the game's lone goal in the 27th minute. "We showed a lot of heart, especially after getting that red card."
There was some question about the first yellow card for Yedlin but no doubt about the second one.
"I wasn't sure about the first one. The first one he played the ball, but seeing it, it was a foul, and you could give him a yellow," Klinsmann said. "Then he just lost his head for a second, and this is why you are young. You have to give him the benefit of the doubt, the credit that he will learn from that mistake."
With Colombia losing to Costa Rica, 3-2, the United States (2-1) clinched first place in Group A and will advance to the quarterfinals Thursday in Seattle. The opponent will be determined Sunday.
Despite the constant second-half pressure by Paraguay, the United States almost took a 2-0 lead in the 63rd minute. Gyasi Zardes, whose ability to take on defenders was a major reason for the Americans' win, went dribbling in on goal but was stopped by defender Paulo Da Silva at the last second.
U.S. keeper Brad Guzan stood tall in the 82nd minute by making consecutive kick saves from close range against Jorge Benitez and Miguel Almiron.
With a man advantage, and a tie doing it no good, Paraguay kept sending players in waves on goal. In the 89th minute, a Paraguay goal by Gustavo Gomez was nullified by an obvious offside call.
Showing a relentless attack, especially working the left flank, the United States led, 1-0, at halftime.
Just as Costa Rica struggled to handle Dempsey, so did Paraguay. Dempsey, who had a goal and two assists in a 4-0 win over Costa Rica on Tuesday, made the Philadelphia crowd gasp when he bended a free kick from 20 yards out just over the crossbar in the 25th minute.
Two minutes later, Zardes set up the U.S. goal, with a strong run down the left flank. With two defenders around him, Zardes kept buying himself time while also advancing the ball. Near the end line he sent a low cross that Dempsey one-timed from about 10 yards out.
"It was a great ball from Gyasi," Dempsey said. "If I don't score it is on me."
Guzan made his best first-half save during stoppage time, sliding out to thwart a right-angle shot by Dario Lezcano.
The defensive player of the game for the United States was center back John Brooks. Brooks was a force breaking up plays, and his best effort came in the 11th minute, when he made a clean tackle on Miguel Almiron, who was breaking in on goal.