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US Outmatched, Outclassed in Copa America Semifinal Match Against Argentina
Coming off the back of a gritty and hard fought 2-1 win over no.13 ranked Ecuador in their quarterfinal match of the Copa America, the US men’s national team had the monumental task of taking down the top ranked team in the world, Argentina. With suspensions to three of the team’s core players; Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood, coach Jurgen Klinsmann was faced with many difficult decisions for putting out a starting XI to counter the high energy, offensive firepower of Argentina. However; one look at Klinsmann’s pre-match lineup, and it immediately became clear what the game plan would be for the Americans; bunker and counter. The US came out with a defensive 4-4-2 formation made up of Fabian Johnson being dropped back from his natural Left Wing position into the Left Back role, Kyle Beckerman slotted into a Center Defensive Midfield role tasked with covering the mighty Lionel Messi, while a curious decision was made to pair Chris Wondolowski up top with Clint Dempsey, despite not playing a single minute in the team’s run up to this match. Unfortunately, this would prove too risky as the team looked completely disjointed and not up to the task from the first whistle.
Ezequiel Lavezzi started the scoring for Argentina in the third minute of the match after finding himself wide open on the back post of Brad Guzan’s goal to head home an inch-perfect chip from Messi, as Guzan was caught in no man’s land, while his defense left Lavezzi completely unmarked. While Guzan could have arguably come out to claim the ball, this was just a precursor to an otherwise forgettable night for the keeper who did what little he could to stop the onslaught of Argentine attacks. While the Americans continually showed no imagination and were absolutely predictable in their attacks, Argentina were able to mix up their looks with time and space to drop the ball all the way to their goalkeeper, in order to build their attacks from the back and spray the ball out to their wings, who were usually able to find a man streaking down the opposite line with little to no cover on him. As the match wore on, the US became visibly frustrated with bad giveaways in the middle of the park that led to fouls that would eventually prove costly.
In the 30th minute, Messi etched his name into history by producing a sublime free kick to Guzan’s near post which secured his place atop Argentinian history as the country’s leading goal scorer with 55 goals in all competitions for his country. A needless foul by Wondolowski at the top of the box proved to be the cap on a terrible night for him as he was subbed out at halftime following a match where a lack of service left him completely lost in the match, forcing him to continually drop back and defend. Argentine fans were vividly appreciative of Messi’s achievement as shortly afterwards, one of them managed to run onto the field, getting down on both knees and praising Messi as one of their demigods. As the first half came to a close, the US continually looked visibly frustrated at their lack of opportunities. Zero urgency and tepidness by the US to go at Argentina was on full display in the 44th minute as Messi could be seen standing with the ball at his feet at half field for almost 5 full seconds with no pressure from any US defender to challenge him.
Timidity and too much respect shown by the US for the star power of Argentina was the name of the game on the night, as the US’ lack of urgency to push the ball on the attack or pressure their man on defense was countered by Argentina’s discipline and calmness on the ball. On defense, Argentina were double and triple teaming their men, giving the US no room to operate and forcing them into costly turnovers or resorting to booting the ball up the field in the hopes that one of their strikers could hold on to the ball long enough to hopefully mount some sort of attack. The US’s best chances came from the right side of the field as the high energy play of Zardes and Yedlin produced some of the team’s most dangerous attacks, though to no avail. In the 50th minute, Gonzalo Higuain made it 3-0 to Argentina when his back post run left him wide open to slot in his first goal of the match as John Brooks was caught ball watching, once again leaving Guzan out to dry. Then in the 86th minute, poor defense by substitute Steve Birnbaum sealed the win for Argentina as Messi capitalized on another giveaway by the US defense in their own half, finding Higuain wide open on the break for his second goal to make it 4-0 to Argentina. Following the goal, Argentina showed off their control of the match by moving the ball around as they pleased, playing it from either side to the enjoyment of their fan base.
Overall, a simply poor effort by the US. While excuses will be made that they did not have their main core of players out there, the fact of the matter is that they were outmatched and outclassed in every aspect of the game. With the Wondolowski experiment up top proving fruitless, his strike partner, Dempsey, tried all sorts of ways to impose himself in the match. Dropping into the midfield to attempt starting an attack by himself, or being forced to drop back and defend the relentless attack by Argentina, Dempsey simply could not make his mark or impose himself in the game. Bradley had yet another horrible match in the tournament as numerous giveaways in dangerous areas and a lack of urgency to push the ball forward have left many to call for the captain to be benched. One of the few bright spots in the midfield was the high energy of Gyasi Zardes, whose constant work rate to make runs down the wings and pressure guys on the ball produced the few dangerous opportunities that the US had.
Deandre Yedlin’s return from a one game suspension also proved fruitless as he provided a few decent attacks going forward, but often found himself struggling defensively to contain the wing play of the Argentines. Christian Pulisic’s sub on at halftime for Wondolowski did provide a bit of a spark as he attempted to provide much needed creativity and a willingness to run at defenders for the Americans; however, the physical mismatch proved too much as he was constantly muscled off the ball by his defender, arguably with a few warranting calls by the referee. While the greatness of Argentina and their talent cannot be understated, this was simply a poor effort by the US. Even at the 73 minute mark, Argentina had 66% of the possession to the US’s 33% while eventually outshooting the US, 11 shots on goal to 0. Defensive mistakes, costly turnovers, and a lack of urgency to go at Argentina showed just how far the talent gap is still between the two countries. The head scratching lineup decisions by Klinsmann will also be called into question as the defensive shell he tried to employ failed to find any cohesion and was broken down all match. With a June 25 third place match looming for the US against the loser of tonight’s Colombia-Chile match, Klinsmann will have all of his suspended players back in time to possibly save his job following last night’s display. While the talent pool of this year’s team is deeper than it has ever been for the US, what last night’s match showed us how wide the gap still is between the US and the elite of the world. On June 26, Argentina will be going for their 14th Copa America title, and first since 1993, while the US look to seal what has overall been a memorable Copa America with their highest ever finish in the Copa America since 1995 when the team lost in their third place match.