The United States men’s national soccer team now plays with house money, but Goliath is walking through the door looking to deny the U.S. a potential jackpot.
Team USA will play Argentina on Tuesday at NRG Stadium in Houston in the semifinals of Copa America 2016. The game pits top-ranked Argentina, the favorite to win the competition, against a team looking to establish itself as a winner; something fans at home will cherish and opponents abroad might fear.
Argentina’s current form reflects its status as the world’s top team, and the incomparable Lionel Messi is reaching his best level, having recovered fully from a pre-tournament back injury. Argentina climbed to historic heights in its first four games at Copa America 2016. But Messi and Co. will consider anything other than victory, something that has eluded Argentina since 1993, to be a failure.
The United States was always a long-shot candidate to triumph on home soil. Team USA’s progress to the semifinals represents Copa America success in 2016, but the Americans are hungry for something more tangible: a place in the final and its best-ever Copa America finish.
Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador have pushed the United States to the limit at Copa America 2016, but those contests were only the set up for Team USA’s most difficult challenge yet.
Jurgen Klinsmann has never led the United States against Argentina. But Klinsmann defeated Argentina in the 1990 FIFA World Cup final as a player with Germany and again as a coach in the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals.
Klinsmann on Monday in a Facebook Live chat told USA fans to believe “anything is possible.”
At his press conference following Argentina’s quarterfinal win over Venezuela, head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino assured reporters his team wouldn’t take Team USA lightly.
“As I always say, any team that gets to this stage in a tournament, like the U.S., they get there because of their own merit,” Martino said Saturday, according to Goal.com’s Sam Lee.
Martino downplayed the potential effects of the United States’ two extra days’ rest.
“I don?t think we?re too worried about that,” Martino said. “We?re very focused on our goal. I don?t think that the rest time is a big deal.”
The United States will be missing three starters, as Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood serve one-game suspensions in the semifinal game.
U.S. Right back DeAndre Yedlin returns from suspension and is available for selection again. He’s likely to start against Argentina.
Argentina midfielder Nicolas Gaitan also is suspended for the game.
Argentina leads the all-time series against the U.S., with six wins and two draws in 10 games.
However, Team USA has earned draws in its last two games against Argentina, with one in 2008 and in the most recent meeting in 2011.
Messi averages one goal every 41 minutes so far at Copa America 2016.
U.S. forward Clint Dempsey has produced six goals so far.
Can Dempsey, a Texan, fire Team USA into the stratosphere from inside his native Lone Star State? He thinks he can.
?I?m proud to represent Nacogdoches (Tex.),? Dempsey told the U.S. Soccer Federation’s website Monday. ?Anytime you can play in front of family it?s always nice. I owe a lot to where I?m from.
“I’ve been blessed that I was able to step up and hopefully I can keep going. I thought we played well. I thought we created some good chances in front of goal. We were unlucky not to score more.”
Paraguay’s Enrique Caceres will referee USA-Argentina. He oversaw Mexico’s win over Uruguay on June 5. Caceres also was the fourth official on June 12 in Peru’s win over Brazil. Like his three colleagues, Caceres failed to spot the controversial “Hand of Cod” goal, on which Peru eliminated Brazil from the tournament.
3-1 Goliath, err, Argentina.
Thumbnail photo via Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports Images