This is a series delving into the passion and flair that makes the Copa América a worthy tournament of the sport we love. We hope through the succession of these articles you find joy in the tillage of the tournament and discover what makes soccer, fútbol.
Please consider reading the series in order, it’ll make the journey flow better. But don’t worry, each individual piece will make sense on its own too. It’s your choice. This is No. 5.
If you haven’t read the first article of the series, you can do so here.
I can hear the whispers of “I Believe That We Will Win” becoming joyous shouts. The USMNT has toppled El Grupo de la Muerte and has been crowned as the top team in group A. Their reward is a date with Ecuador on a Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.
I was adamant that the USMNT win their group in order to avoid second place in their own group and play the first placed team in group B. Group B has Brazil, a tournament favorite. Well more like, “had”. Brazil was eliminated from the competition. Four points from three games cannot be encouraging for Dunga and the Seleção.
Now the USMNT will be able to avoid Brazil in the knockout stages of the tournament and may not face another top-ranked team till the finals in the form of Argentina.
It was imperative that USMNT takes advantage of their group placing, especially after Group B eliminated Brazil and Costa Rica defeated Colombia (Colombia was the group leader at the time). A pinch of fortune ultimately opened the door for the USA to take top spot on goal differential.
Ecuador stands in the way of the American Outlaw’s plan.
Ecuador came back from two goals behind against the eventual group winners Peru for a two-two draw. The team showcased a constant goal threat via Enner Valencia. I hope the extra time red card for Gabriel Achillier was worth it. It probably wasn’t.
Ecuador dismantled Haiti.
O.K. to be fair Ecuador should be comfortably winning this encounter, but they did so by scoring four goals. All four were scored by a different player, illustrating a goal threat from multiple points on the pitch for Ecuador.
Ecuador traded blows with Brazil. Although eliminated, Brazil is not a team one can just walk over.
Well, unless you’re Germany.
With Yedlin’s eternal wisdom of two yellow cards within a single minute of each other, Jürgen will have to shuffle his backline. Must be music to Gustavo Quinteros, Ecuador’s head coach, ears.
Ecuador will come with a game plan to defeat the USMNT, and that should worry Jürgen. How simple will it be for Ecuador to play quickly and wide along the sidelines utilizing Enner Valencia’s flair and speed?
Will the US be able to respond? Especially considering their own troubles they contended with on their way to the knockout rounds.
The USMNT voyage through the treacherous waters of El Grupo de la Muerte began with an opening match disaster vs. Colombia. You can read my disappointment in Copa América: USMNT Passage Through E Grupo De La Muerte (Part 4 of the series).
There were celebrations to go around after the 4-0 thumping the USMNT game to Costa Rica. Credit to the boys for playing with pride, Jermaine Jones found the sorcerer’s stone and become 24 again, even Wood scored to repay the faith placed in him by Jürgen.
Everyone was ecstatic about the result, but the performance wasn’t entirely convincing. I know, it’s a tournament; all that matters is the scoreline.
But let’s look at the bigger picture. We want a USMNT that is ready to compete in 2018 Russia. Do we not want our standard of soccer to be at the level of the other great nations who have dominated the sport for so long?
What worried me about the match vs. Costa Rica were the first ten minutes when we were insignificant. It seemed as if we had pushed play on a paused game from Colombia except we switched opponents. Nothing else had changed.
We were completely overrun, again.
Costa Rica sought the game; they were confident in attack, so confident that when Joel Campbell narrowly pulled his shot wide, Campbell tracked down the out of bounds ball and hastily returned it to Guzan for the ensuing goal kick.
That’s the kind of game it was before Dempsey expertly slotted home a PK in the ninth minute. I still question the decision; I’ve always though it should be awarded for an ‘unnatural’ arm position (i.e. arm outstretch perpendicular to your body), or intent (arm moving towards the ball). But, hey that’s just my interpretation of the rules.
I saw neither of those.
Against Paraguay, we went to our ‘go to’ plan. Give the ball to Dempsey and see what happens. I can’t start to describe what exactly the USMNT’s game plan is to move the ball from the defensive half to the offense because there is none.
The 63’ minute aftermath following the Dempsey goal gave flashbacks of Hodor’s valiant attempt to stave off the White Walkers.
Guzan made it. Zero goals conceded in the match. The USMNT has time after time been able to count on having a top-notch keeper between the sticks and that performance proved no evidence to the contrary.
Hold the door, Guzan. The cracks are showing.
And here comes Ecuador.