The United States are in the Semifinals of the Copa America Centenario. Does that feel good or what?
The U.S struggled in their first game against Colombia where they lost 2-0 but they would go on to beat Costa Rica and Paraguay to win Group A. Critics counted out the United States from even advancing out of the group stage but as usual, the United States proved the doubters wrong. Critics would then go on to say that Ecuador would easily take down the United States but Clint Dempsey and the company would not let that happen on home turf.
Now the United States will play Lionel Messi and Argentina in the semis. Not the matchup that many United States soccer fans would hope to see but this is the type of team you should expect to play in the knockout stage of any major tournament.
This is arguably the best attacking group that the United States will play since their battle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup. Many of the players on this Argentina team are coming off stellar club seasons such as: Ever Banega’s solid Europa League winning season at Sevilla, Gonzalo Higuain’s historic goal-scoring season with Napoli, and Lionel Messi’s 41 goals and double season with Barcelona.
Argentina basically steamrolled through the group stage beating Chile, Panama, and Bolivia by outscoring them 10-1. They annihilated Venezuela 4-1 where Messi shined once again. This is an Argentina team that is on a mission to win a major tournament for the first time since the 1993 Copa America. Some United States fans must be thinking, “Why even play since Argentina are just going to beat us down?” If the players have that mentality heading into Houston on Tuesday, the game is already over.
This game is winnable for the United States, but they will have plenty of objectives to accomplish if they want to reach their first ever Copa America Final.
Contain the Lionel Messi Effect
Lionel Messi is arguably the best soccer player in the world so trying to contain him and limit his playmaking abilities will be a tough task for the U.S. What makes Messi great is that he is not a one-dimensional forward. Messi can play an entire game without taking a shot and he can still have a substantial impact on the game. How? Well Messi is arguably one of the best passers in the world and Barcelona fans have constantly seen his magic passes to create goal-scoring chances. Messi had 16 assists this past season for Barcelona and the United States should fear Messi’s playmaking to get teammates a goal-scoring chance more than his scoring ability in a game where he has a surplus of top form forwards playing alongside him.
Such as with these three plays shown above, Messi is positioned back alongside his defenders and he somehow finds a way to sneak in a curling pass over to create three amazing goal-scoring chances. It is just amazing how he can collapse a defense with some perfectly-place wonder passes to set up his teammates with impressive shot on goal opportunity. The United States backline can not afford to get lost in defense as Sevilla, Panama, and Venezuela did here or it can be a long day for them. Regardless of whether Argentina’s manager Gerardo Martino will have a 4-3-3 with Messi as a winger or a 4-2-3-1 with Messi potentially playing the role of a midfielder, the United States will need to pressure Messi every time he touches the ball and crowd the box when he is looking to drive the ball in for a goal-scoring chance. United States fans have seen exceptional play from John Brooks and Geoff Cameron in this tournament, and now it’s time for the rest of the world to recognize their solid play on defense with their biggest challenge yet.
Also, let’s hope that Jurgen Klinsmann is running some free kick drills with goalie Brad Guzan. Messi is one of the greatest free kick goal-scorers of this generation and he can become a threat to score from really anyway on the offensive half.
Brad Guzan, get ready because USMNT fans all remember what happened the last time that the U.S were in the semifinals of a tournament…
The new additions need to step up for the United States
The good news for the U.S in their battle against Argentina is that they will be getting back right back Deandre Yedlin. The bad news? Jermaine Jones will be out due to a straight red card that he received against Ecuador and Bobby Wood/Alejandro Bedoya will also be out due to yellow card accumulation. The United States have appealed Wood’s and Jones’ suspensions but as of now, they will miss the semis.
To be honest, at least Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, and John Brooks are not suspended for the semis. With Wood/Bedoya/Jones, the U.S can afford to lose them due to the depth that they have. To replace Jones and Bedoya, Klinsmann has plenty of options such as: Beckerman, Pulisic, Kitchen, and Nagbe. To replace Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris would have been an excellent choice but he is not on the team, so instead Klinsmann can choose Zusi, Wondolowski, or go with having Pulisic play up front as a forward.
Now the replacements for the suspended trio really depend on the formation that Klinsmann will choose to go with. If Jurgen goes with a 4-4-2, then Nagbe, Beckerman, and Zusi should all start with Michael Bradley at midfield while Zardes goes up front with Dempsey. With this lineup, Gyasi Zardes will play a more comfortable role as a striker, which is his natural position with the L.A Galaxy, instead of playing as a winger. Zardes did have an amazing assist to Dempsey in the game against Paraguay game and he has great speed running down the sidelines but he constantly loses possession and lacks the creativity to relentlessly provide at least three or four goal-scoring chances per game. With the midfield, Beckerman will be playing a central midfield defender role to play a physical game against Argentina and Nagbe/Zusi will be involved in the attack.
In the case that Jurgen goes for a 4-3-3, then Zusi will likely replace Bobby Wood as the winger while Nagbe and Beckerman will join Michael Bradley in midfield. It would be a similar lineup that Klinsmann used against Bolivia in a friendly before the Copa America.
Now with Jurgen Klinsmann, you just never know what he will do with the lineup. He could go back to the old ways and insert Fabian Johnson or Deandre Yedlin as a midfielder. He could also go on and add the 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder/attacker Pulisic. All are reasonable options for the United States but it is not what is best for the United States if they hope to upset Argentina.
No matter who will be playing, the pressure will be on to play well against the powerhouse Argentina team. Many of the players on the bench have had plenty of appearances for the USMNT while others have under 15 caps. This is the time to impress and eventually secure future spots in World Cup qualification games and the 2017 Gold Cup.
The veterans Clint Dempsey, Brad Guzan and Michael Bradley need to have the game of their life
The United States are obvious underdogs in this game but it is nothing new to the trio of Dempsey, Guzan, and Bradley. Along with goalie Tim Howard, they have been underdogs in the 2014 World Cup, 2010 World Cup, and their infamous 2009 Confederations Cup run. Speaking of the 2009 Confederations Cup, remember that run? They made it to the finals after one of the biggest upsets in U.S Soccer history beating Spain 2-0 in the semifinals. They ended up preventing a 4-peat international tournament win by Spain now 7 years later, this Argentina showdown has a similar feel to it.
This is the type of game where experience pays off. This is the type of game where after years of facing the top teams in international and club level, Dempsey/Bradley/Guzan shine and have a memorable victory just like they did in 2009.
To do so, it will evidently be a war.
Michael Bradley can not afford to have a lazy game where he constantly loses possession or is inaccurate with his passes. He will be pressured by Javier Mascherano in midfield all game long and if he loses possession, this is not going to be like Costa Rica where they slowly build up the attack but rather the United States will face a counter attack featuring Messi, Higuain, and Di Maria. You can not put your defense in an unfavorable position like that, or it will turn out to be a replay of their horrendous World Cup defensive performance in 2014.
With Clint Dempsey, this is the perfect time to shine once again and live to your “Captain Amercia” nickname. Argentina are a team that is vulnerable to defensive errors. This is not the 2006 Italian defense or the 2010 Spanish defense. The backline featuring Rojo and Otamendi can be suspect to not pressuring opponents in the box and thus, giving more space to create a shot or build up a goal-scoring chance. Dempsey should be aggressive and physical against the Argentine defense and get in position to score on a chance that has been delivered by your teammates. Dempsey has been successful at it so far with 4 goals including getting into perfect position to score a header against Ecuador on a cross from Jermaine Jones. Dempsey is a strong and resilient striker so he will not be bullied or intimidated by the Argentine defense.
Now with Brad Guzan, you should just be prepared for the unpredictable in this game. The defense could surprise you and be able to limit the shots on goal by Argentina or the inevitable could be upcoming as you must attempt to put on a vintage Tim Howard type of performance with 20+ saves. This Argentina team is a multi-dimensional attack that can score in a number of different ways, whether it is a Messi free kick as stated before, set piece or by a counter attack with world class forwards racing at full speed to get a shot on goal. Guzan will need to have a world class performance and not make mistakes on his line.
Argentina are on a mission to avenge their 2015 Copa America final loss and finally bring home a long-awaited Copa America victory… but the United States might have other plans in store. This is not an impossible task for the U.S, and they can come away with the victory. Klinsmann should emphasize to the team to play a clean and smart game without getting any cards because it can be a long night if they play with 10 men. For the speedy Yedlin and Johnson, experience playing against forwards such as Manchester City or Bayern Munich in Europe should benefit them in this game as they will try to stop an attack that Argentina looks to build up or shut down any runs by an attacker down the sidelines, whether it will be Messi, Aguero, or Lavezzi.
This team is known for accomplishing and overcoming the doubts of critics but can they do it once again in a stage like this?