The U.S. Men’s National Team’s last Copa America Centenario was on June 11. And it seems like it’s been ages since the 10-man squad gutted out a 1-0 win over Paraguay to advance to the Copa quarterfinals.
The W over Paraguay capped a whirlwind week for the Americans. They were on the brink of being the first team out of the tournament (that they’re hosting!) before soundly beating Costa Rica 4-0 in an elimination match. The Ticos surprising win over Colombia also meant the U.S. won Group A, giving it a match against Ecuador on Thursday.
Ecuador has plenty of quality in midfield and poses an especially potent threat on the wings. With a new 4-4-2 formation that can comfortably be converted into a 4-2-3-1, Ecuador looks like a very real threat to U.S. And the talented lineup — Antonio Valencia of Manchester United, Jefferson Montero of Swansea, Enner Valencia from West Ham, and Juan Carlos Paredes from Watford — really want to win Ecuador’s first Copa title and they’ll play the Americans hard.
Against inferior competition, the U.S. backline has looked stout, denying entry balls and clearing much of what comes into the box. But it hasn’t had to deal with a team this quick on the flanks before, nor with a team that will come out and attack them for the majority of the game.
Costa Rica did that in the opening minutes of its match against the U.S., and the Americans looked like they might crack at any moment. An early penalty and some quick shooting from Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood eased the team out of panic mode, but tension still remained.
If Ecuador comes out on the attack, it could be another early exit for the Americans.
Whoever wins will move on to the semifinals and face either Argentina or Venezuela.
Venezuela is a good story in a country where soccer isn’t even the most popular sport (hint: Miguel Cabrera, Johan Santana and Omar Vizquel prefer to use their hands, not feet). But Argentina has looked like a machine in the group matches.
Despite possibly missing Angel Di Maria for the remainder of the tournament due to an adductor strain — the team has said it wasn’t as bad as previously thought, and his recovery may be swift — Argentina has plenty of attacking talent to replace him.
You might have heard of prolific forwards Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, and Erik Lamela. Not to mention that bearded guy who has started on the bench for these games but can immediately step up if his team needs him. (It’s Messi, in case you’re not following the tournament.)
None of this is good news for an American team that hasn’t looked altogether convincing against top competition recently. Its opening match of the tournament against Colombia is evidence of that.
With Clint Dempsey raking in the goals, a sound backline — a reckless DeAndre Yedlin notwithstanding — and Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones playing their roles to perfection, there is a chance for the U.S. to pull off the upset.
But if they get that far, they dare not wake the Bearded One.
Photos: Matt Rourke/AP (US), Peter Morgan/AP (Ecuador), Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (Messi)