No free passes to heaven exist. One must earn entry tickets to the promised land.
The United States men’s national soccer team did just that Thursday night in a Copa America 2016 quarterfinal, beating Ecuador 2-1 to advance to the last four. Before the Copa America “Centenario” began, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann defined success as a place in the semifinals.
The U.S. men’s soccer team has arrived, and Clint Dempsey has cemented his status as a U.S. soccer legend by firing Team USA to its destination. The vetaran forward scored the opening goal in the 22nd minute, rewarding Team USA for the control it assumed early on and maintained through the first half. Dempsey later set up Gyasi Zardes’ game-winner in the second half.
But fight and fate took over the proceedings after halftime.
The referee showed Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia and the United States’ Jermaine Jones red cards in the 51st minute for separate incidents, which took place within seconds of each other.
Zardes scored, as the 10-on-10 game threatened to descend into an all-out melee. But Michael Arroyo scored in the 74th minute, and Ecuador seized the initiative and pressed for the tying goal that never came. Enner Valencia performed as well as Dempsey in the group stage but the Ecuador forward missed a host of scoring chances in the second half and will shoulder much of the blame for his team’s defeat.
As it did last Saturday in the win over Paraguay, Team USA demonstrated remarkable determination in denying Ecuador the goal it needed to remain in Copa America 2016. That mental toughness led the U.S. to victory, as its physical powers waned and tactical organization deteriorated in the closing stages.
The win over Ecuador has made the “Summer of Soccer” an unforgettable party for Team USA.
Here are some key facts and figures from USA-Ecuador:
Dempsey’s makes feast through feats
Before the tournament started, Dempsey praised Copa America as one of his inspirations when when he was young. Now 33, Dempsey is in the running for top scorer and player-of-the-tournament honors. Team USA wouldn’t have advanced this far without the Texan, who is one of the most ambitious and successful players this country has ever produced.
DeAndre Yedlin’s dismissal against Paraguay forced Klinsmann to alter his back line. Klinsmann moved Fabian Johnson from left- to right-fullback (in Yedlin’s place).
Johnson fared very well on the side on which he also thrived at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Matt Besler played the unfamiliar position of left back. Despite making few errors, Besler’s presence didn’t stabilize Team USA’s defense. Ecuador probably would have earned a better result on another day.
Indiscipline becomes chronic problem
And now to the ugly.
Jones will regret his red card and the actions which led to his dismissal. He slapped Arroyo in the face during an unnecessary altercation, just after Antonio Valencia had earned himself a second yellow card. Team USA then had to drop deep and expend more energy defending against Ecuador’s onslaught than would have done with a man advantage for almost the entire second half.
Klinsmann didn’t mince words in describing the referee’s decision to dismiss Jones.
But Klinsmann must bear responsibility for Team USA’s ongoing indiscipline.
The red card rules Jones out of the semifinals. Bedoya and Bobby Wood received yellow cards after Jones’ exit. None will play in the semifinals.
Teams often are on-field reflections of their manager. Klinsmann struck a defiant tone after the tournament-opening loss to Colombia. He tried to whip fans into frenzies from the sidelines in the second halves against Paraguay and Ecuador. He also exchanged heated words with Ecuador’s coaches late in the quarterfinal.
Klinsmann must control his emotions before … well, it’s already too late. Team USA will be missing three starters in the semifinals, and the remaining eight will feel the effects of their red-card-induced extra exertions. Squad depth is key in tournament play, but any team would rather have its top players for the biggest games.
That won’t be the case on June 21 when the U.S. attempts to reach the final against either Venezuela or Argentina.
Thumbnail photo via Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Jun 16, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; United States forward Clint Dempsey (8) heads in a goal against Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez (22) during the first half of quarter-final play in the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament at Century Link Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports