With U.S. Soccer’s appeals for the red card shown to Jermaine Jones and the yellow shown to Bobby Wood against Ecuador having been rejected, the United States Men’s National Team heads into its Copa America semifinal clash against Argentina without two of its best players.
Facing the likes of Lionel Messi and Argentina was never going to be easy for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. But now without Wood, Jones, and Alejandro Bedoya – who like Wood, will miss Tuesday’s game due to yellow card accumulation – the task has become that much more daunting.
After a lackluster tournament opener, in which they lost 2-0 to Colombia, the USMNT has seemingly been getting better with every game in this historic Copa America Centenario.
They rebounded from the Colombia loss by thrashing a talented Costa Rica side 4-0. After going down a man in their next game against Paraguay, they put in a gritty, master-class of a rearguard action to hold on for a 1-0 win.
In to the round of 16, where throughout Klinsmann’s tenure, we’ve typically seen the U.S. bow out of tournaments, they put in one of the best performances we’ve ever seen from the USMNT; defeating an Ecuador team that’s currently joint-top of South American World Cup qualifying by 2-1.
Klinsmann raised some eyebrows with his squad selection at the start of the tournament, and for sticking with the same starting lineup for consecutive matches for the first time since he took charge in 2011. But clearly the German’s tactician has been vindicated, both in terms of the players he called up and the teams he’s put out on the field.
In defense, the center-back pairing of John Brooks and Geoff Cameron has been outstanding. As has goalkeeper Brad Guzan, whose performances against Paraguay and Ecuador should put to bed any remaining doubts over his ability to takeover for Tim Howard as the U.S. no. 1.
In the attack, Clint Dempsey has been the main man, scoring three goals and chipping in with another three assists; giving the veteran striker a hand in all but one of the Americans’ goals in this tournament. But while Wood has only registered one goal in the Copa, it’s the Bundesliga-based forward’s partnership with Dempsey that has enabled the Seattle Sounders man to be so effective.
In the absence of Wood, Klinsmann may be forced to pair Dempsey with Gyasi Zardes. The LA Galaxy man is not as talented as Wood, but does have the pace and ability to make the kind of penetrating runs that allow Dempsey to drop deeper, contribute to build-up play and hopefully, continue to get on the end of things in front of the opposition’s goal.
If Zardes is deployed up top, Klinsmann will need to start someone else on the wing. One possibility could be to move Fabian Johnson up from the left-back position he mostly plays for the U.S. into the attacking midfield role he plays for his club team, Borussia Monchengladbach.
Without Jones, look for Klinsmann to hand a start to Kyle Beckerman in midfield. The Real Salt Lake man has proved a reliable option for Klinsmann over the years, and will most likely play deep to protect the back four, allowing Michael Bradley to push further forward and support the attack more.
Replacing Bedoya is a little less straightforward. The 29-year-old, who plays his club football at Nantes in Ligue 1, has been something of a “glue guy” for the USMNT in this tournament. In his absence, Klinsmann is likely to start Graham Zusi, who up until now has proven to be effective coming off the bench.
Whatever happens on Tuesday at NRG Stadium in Houston, this has already been a tournament where we’ve perhaps seen the best out of this U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann. Argentina are the top-ranked team in the world and have always been considered the favorites to win this special edition of the Copa America and end a trophy drought that stretches back an improbable 23 years. There’s also the foreboding sense that while Argentina have won all four of their matches so far, they’ve managed to do so without really getting out of second gear.
Before the Copa kicked off, Klinsmann targeted making the semis as an objective. By that token, this tournament has already been a success for the U.S. And while a shock upset by the host nation isn’t totally beyond the realm of possibility, the one thing the U.S. will want to avoid on Tuesday, is suffering the kind of embarrassment Mexico received in the 7-0 hammering they were dealt by Chile on Saturday.