Having topped Group A to advance to the next round of the Copa America Centenario, the United States Men’s National Team is set to face Ecuador in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
The U.S. made progress thanks to having bounced back from its tournament-opening 2-0 loss to Colombia with back-to-back wins against Costa Rica (4-0) and Paraguay (1-0). USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann has weathered criticism over his team selection, tactics and substitutions. But nonetheless, managed to navigate his team through a tricky group to within 90 minutes of a place in the semis.
Klinsmann’s team – veteran players Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in particular – have repaid the German tactician’s faith in them by putting in gritty, combative performances. After winning a penalty against Costa Rica, the U.S. opened a floodgate, unloading four goals on a Ticos side that simply couldn’t cope.
Against Paraguay, Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender John Brooks put in a master-class in rearguard action after DeAndre Yedlin was shown a red card and the U.S. was reduced to 10 men.
But while there is much to take encouragement from following the Americans’ progress in the group stage, the way forward lies through a talented, well-organized Ecuador team that’s tied with Uruguay at the top of South American World Cup qualifying. Ecuador coach Gustavo Quinteros’ team has shown its mettle in this tournament, holding Brazil to a scoreless stalemate, drawing 2-2 with Group toppers Peru, and trouncing Haiti 4-0.
The U.S. beat Ecuador 1-0 in a friendly in the lead-up to the tournament last month. However, while the Yanks will be able to count on the support of a majority of the crowd at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field on Thursday, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call the U.S. favorites.
In a Copa where we’ve seen favorites Brazil and Uruguay fail to advance from the first round, the U.S. will nonetheless fancy its chances. If Klinsmann’s team is to advance, it will need another good performance from the likes of Brooks and Guzan to shut down a high-powered Ecuador attack led by the likes of Enner Valencia, Antonio Valencia (no relation), and Jefferson Montero.
Thursday’s clash with Ecuador would also be a good time to start seeing more out of some of the younger players Klinsmann has included in the squad. While Bobby Wood had a good game against Costa Rica – winning the penalty for Clint Dempsey to open the scoring and later scoring a goal himself – we’ve yet to see the best of Gyasi Zardes at this Copa. Meanwhile, we’ve hardly had more than a glimpse at the likes of Darlington Nagbe or Christian Pulisic.
Should the U.S. manage to progress against Ecuador, it will face a likely run-in with Lionel Messi and Argentina in the semis.
In the other Copa America semifinal clashes; Peru will face Colombia, Argentina will take on Venezuela, and Mexico will face current champions Chile.
You can catch the USA taking on Ecuador in the Copa America quarterfinals this Thursday, June 16 at 9:30 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.