When American college basketball player, coach, and broadcaster Jim Valvano coined the term “survive and advance,” he certainly wasn’t referring to a must-not-lose final game in the group stage of a major tournament. After the US survived going down to 10 men for the majority of the second half against Paraguay, the term feels apt. Now Jurgen Klinsmann’s team travels to Seattle for the knockout stages of the Copa America Centenario after gutting out a 1-0 win.
Entering the second half with that 1-0 lead, and only needing a draw to confirm their place, the US made their journey a little harder when DeAndre Yedlin was shown two yellow cards in a matter of minutes. After starting the same starting XI for the first time in three consecutive games in the Klinsmann era, the US will have to adjust against either Brazil or Peru in the quarter-final.
“The way they kept their shape and discipline and the way they worked for each other was absolutely outstanding,” said Klinsmann.
Keeping their discipline was difficult after the team was shown four further yellow cards after Yedlin’s sending off.
While John Brooks was already having his best tournament in a US shirt, his performance against Paraguay was a step even beyond that, including his tackle that broke up a three on one Paraguayan counterattack in the first half.
“With a performance like this, I guess all of Europe is watching,” Klinsmann added.
As they did against Costa Rica, the US started out in the 4-3-3 they’ve used since the friendly against Bolivia, but quickly shifted to a 4-4-2 with Bobby Wood moving central though Clint Dempsey dropped into midfield to retrieve the ball and spark attacks. And though they spent the majority of the second half defending, the two man midfield of Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley held their shape against wave after wave of Paraguayan surges.
In the span of eight days, the story around the US Men’s National Team changed from potential doom and gloom and a managerial change to a second consecutive inter-continental tournament knockout stage appearance. For the first time since the 2009 Confederations Cup, the US has advanced to the knockout stage of a tournament after losing their opening game of the group stage. They also improved to 4-0-1 at Lincoln Financial Field, the place where Klinsmann managed his first USMNT match nearly five years ago.
Now the US waits to see who and where they will play next, buoyed by the bounce of not only defending the way they did down a man, but confident after two consecutive wins against two teams in the top 70 of the FIFA rankings, and quality opponents at that. Whoever the opponent is, Klinsmann hopes that the experiences of the past will help them against even tougher foes when a loss is fatal.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our team to play these types of games and rise to the occasion. We have nothing to lose,” he said. “Why not be courageous, why not put pressure on them and give them a game? Every team has weaknesses. That’s why we went abroad to have these experiences and grow our mindset to say yes we can compete.”
The next challenge for Klinsmann’s team after surviving two “must-wins” in a row is now taking this team beyond the quarterfinal stage and meeting the goal of the semis he set prior to the tournament. He and his team will be questioned along the way, but maybe all of the experimentation and friendlies against major powers in world soccer finally led to the breakthrough moment US fans have been hoping ever since that 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Linc.
How this team copes with their next major test might well determine what the immediate future holds. After passing their last two tests under pressure with flying colors, what’s next?
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