USA Today Images

I can honestly say I didn’t expect to be writing this article before Copa América started. The United States travelled to Seattle as the winners of Group A to take on Ecuador. A win would send the Americans to their first semifinal appearance in the tournament since 1995, but could they push through to the final four? For the first time in three games, Jürgen Klinsmann was forced to field a different starting lineup due to a red card to DeAndre Yedlin against Paraguay. On the other end, Ecuador have been one of the more exciting teams of the tournament with their speedy counterattack pushing them through to the knockout rounds ahead of Brazil. Which nation would take the spoils at CenturyLink and schedule a semifinal date against Argentina or Venezuela?

The opening stages of the match saw both sides test the opposing backlines, but neither was able to put in a shot on target. That was until the 22nd minute. After Bobby Wood was nearly sent through on goal, he cut the ball back to Jermaine Jones on the edge of the box. The veteran midfielder hit a perfectly weighted cross into the penalty area and who else but Clint Dempsey was there to head it home. Dempsey now shares the tournament lead in goals with three.

Minutes later, Dempsey sent in a low driven shot from a tight angle, but Alexander Domínguez was there to stop it. The 29-year-old keeper did well to hold on to the ball because there were U.S. players waiting on the doorstep for an easy rebound. On the half hour mark, John Brooks came up with a huge block against Michael Arroyo on the penalty spot to deny the Club América striker a great scoring chance.

As the half came to a close both sides would get one more big chance to find a goal. First, Alejandro Bedoya tested Domínguez with another low shot in the 42nd, and once again the keeper was up to the test. In the first minute of stoppage time, Ecuador had their first big chance of the match. A poor giveaway from Brooks sent Arroyo through on goal. Geoff Cameron did well to usher the striker wide, and Brad Guzan was there to slam the door.

The Americans went into the second half with a deserved one-goal lead, but Ecuador looked more than capable of reversing the score line. The big moment of drama came just seven minutes into the half. A blatant kick out by Antonio Valencia on Bedoya earned the Manchester United player his second yellow card. In the ensuing scrum, Jermaine Jones appeared to strike an Ecuadorian player in the face and was promptly given his marching orders, as well. For the remaining 40 minutes, both sides would be down to ten men.

A hectic period of play followed the dual sending offs as both teams tried to adjust to the new numbers. In the 65th minute, the U.S. got their all-important second goal. Great play from Dempsey in the nitty-gritty part of the penalty area saw the Seattle Sounders striker send in a half shot/half cross across the face of goal. Domínguez got a touch to it, but the ball still rolled its way to Gyasi Zardes at the far post. Zardes scored what has to be the easiest goal of his professional career as he tapped in from inches out to put the U.S. two goals to the good.

For the remainder of the match, the U.S. looked content to park the bus and Ecuador pushed frantically for a goal. In the 74th minute, Arroyo finally put a chance away. A set piece play found the striker wide open on the edge of the penalty area and he hit a venomous strike past Guzan into the bottom corner. Two minutes later, Enner Valencia had a golden chance to score the equalizer, but his header missed the target.

The final ten minutes saw the Americans almost score twice. Unfortunately, both of those chances were at the wrong end of the pitch. A misguided clearance from John Brooks forced Guzan into a reflex save, and Geoff Cameron needed Kyle Beckerman’s head to save him from becoming a U.S. villain. Thankfully for the U.S. and all of their fans, they had just enough luck to see out the 2-1 victory.

I think that most U.S. fans will consider a trip to the semifinals a success this tournament, but now they might start getting their hopes up for more. However, they will now be forced to play either Argentina or Venezuela without Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood or Alejandro Bedoya. Do they have the depth to deal with these absences, or will the semifinal be a very different story than the quarterfinal?


Tags: , , , ,