Against Paraguay, when Jürgen Klinsmann announced the same lineup for the third consecutive match, many people were bewildered. It was the first time in his history as US manager that he’d done so, and the starting XI from the previous two games had produced mixed results. Sure, they’d blown out Costa Rica, but there were times they looked vulnerable, particularly in defense and transition.
After their loss to Colombia in the opening match of the tournament, Klinsmann defiantly suggested that the only thing missing from the US’s performance was goals. As confusing as that had seemed at the time, the next two matches have all but proven him right.
Against Colombia, the US’s offense was static. Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood failed to combine, the result of runs made too late or too early, and the attack was understandably disjointed. Against Costa Rica, the forward play finally clicked. The transitions from defense to attack were seamless. Granted, Colombia are a far better team than minnows Costa Rica, but the difference in quality from Klinsmann’s men was visible.
Saturday night, the United States maintained the momentum they had going in their previous match, starting well from the opening whistle and submitted a gritty performance against Paraguay after going a man down early in the second half.
So what made the difference? Klinsmann thinks it’s in part due to the fact that his team can play their game even when facing a difficult opponent. “What I’d love to see is that we’re more confident and courageous to take the game to a team. We aren’t interested in only playing counter-attack. The old story [of this team] is the underdog story, and I cannot hear that story anymore.”
Clearly, Klinsmann is no fan of the reputation the USMNT have earned as being a reactive side. Getting results against quality teams in a tournament like Copa America could be hugely important for the team’s psyche, especially with the World Cup just two years away.
It’s no secret how Jürgen felt after Saturday night’s victory, and what he thinks it can do for the team’s reputation. “I’m thrilled for the team. They really deserved that. We held them, while a man down, and even could have scored. This is a real statement to South American teams.”
Next up, the United States travel to Seattle to face Brazil, Peru or Ecuador in the quarter-finals, but he insists that his side aren’t scared of any one team. “If it’s Brazil, it’s Brazil. If it’s Ecuador, it’s Ecuador. We have nothing to lose. Why not go out there and be courageous, put pressure on them and give them a game? Every team has weaknesses.”
Still, if the US plans to get a result against either team, they’ll have to do it without starting right back DeAndre Yedlin who, in a rush of blood to the head, received his marching orders after two rash yellow cards in just one minute against Paraguay.
Klinsmann was quite matter of fact about Yedlin’s forced absence in what will be a must-win. “[DeAndre] has to have those experiences. He needs to make mistakes. He just lost his head for a second. This happens when you’re young. There’s no growth without failure, so he grew.”
Hopefully, Michael Orozco, who came on for Dempsey when Yedlin received his marching orders, will be up to the challenge, as he struggled a bit last night. Still, the US manager is confident in those players who don’t start, insisting that “whoever comes off the bench can do the job.”
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the opening loss to Colombia and the victory Saturday night over Paraguay was that the US players seemed 100% committed to each other and to the victory. Jürgen noticed it too: “As a coach you want to see your team really enjoy their play. Right now, they’re enjoying it.”
Despite the loss of Yedlin, if the USMNT can maintain the consistency they’ve enjoyed of late when they face off against Ecuador, Peru or Brazil in the quarter-finals, they’ll have a good chance of advancing.
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