It was less than two weeks ago when I wrote that the US Men’s National Team was relying on hope and completely hopeless. Five goals, none conceded, and a manageable quarterfinal matchup against Ecuador later and I’m forced to face it: I might have been wrong.
What changed? They stopped playing teams like Colombia, for one. John Anthony Brooks went from mercurial to indomitable, for two. The US came out against Ecuador like a favored team and beat the underdogs like they should have.
For just about an hour, it looked like the American team that Klinsmann promised: from the moment Michael Bradley walked out with a rainbow captain’s armband to honor those killed in Orlando, the Yanks were easy to root for. Bradley played great, with lots of clever balls early. Bedoya was a brilliant two-way player. Clint Dempsey’s 22’ goal was a beautiful, organized, team effort. Wood used his speed to latch onto a pass, Jermaine Jones had inscrutable Jonesieness to one-touch the ball onto Dempsey’s head to put the US up early.
One could forgive Sam’s Army for being confident in the early-goings of the second half. The US had the lead and control of the game. What could go wrong?
Put another way, when has a Klinsmann team ever made it easy? After a cheap foul by Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia led to his immediate sending off, Jermaine Jones decided it was time for more inscrutable Jonesieness. A half-hearted fist to Valencia’s face was enough to catch the ref’s eye, and you really can’t punch someone in the face – even half-heartedly – so Jones was sent a red card. A screaming match and a few moments of soccer playing later, Bobby Wood got a cheap yellow of his own to ensure he won’t see the field in the semis.
It wasn’t enough for the USMNT to be on their back foot for the next 40 minutes. The high-energy force of Bobby Wood would be missing for the most important USMNT match of the year.
A 10-on-10 match favored the Ecuadorians. More empty space allowed them more 1v1 opportunities in space and more angles to pick out Enner Valencia’s head. But fortunately for the United States: John Anthony Brooks. The long, strong, 23-year-old shut everything down in the box. And when he was done with that he did even more. Just past the hour mark, Brooks picked out a long pass to Bobby Wood running behind the defense, who flipped the ball towards the box and after some nifty Gyasi Zardes-Clint Dempsey combination play it was 2-0.
Again, this appeared to be the team that was promised. Maybe not technical, possibly a bit too clever for their own good, but they had a plan and were executing it with tact and athleticism. If it wasn’t for an errant Jermaine Jones fist, the United States would have been cruising towards the finals.
All Jurgen Klinsmann had to do was put in his subs and salt the game away. It took another yellow card (this one on Bedoya) and a Michael Arroyo goal, but the subs came.
With space to operate and the desperation to try anything, Ecuador basically just tried to get John Anthony Brooks the hell out of the way. It almost worked; with Brooks caught in space between strikers, Enner Valencia got his head onto a couple crosses. He wildly mis-hit them. The US was, at the end of the night in Seattle, safe as houses.
So what comes next? The Americans will have to face Argentina (assuming they get past a severely outgunned Venezuela) without Bobby Wood, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jermaine Jones. This is, bluntly, no small thing. Wood and Bedoya have been two of the best Americans in the tournament and Jones is the sort of 20-sided die that the USMNT needs if it’s going to have a shot against the top-ranked team in the world on Tuesday.
That said, goodness, it looked like the United States had a plan for the past three matches. It takes more than a plan to take out a team like Argentina, but strategy is a great place to start. It seems like Klinsmann is risk-averse and will put in his trusty slow midfielders like Kyle Beckerman or Graham Zusi rather than run a risk with Darlington Nagbe or the Scotland-based Perry Kitchen.
It’s tempting to, dare I say, trust the US coach with this decision. Able fill-ins make a lot of sense if the general gameplan is working. On the other hand, if they couldn’t stop Michael Arroyo how are they going to stop Angel di Maria? Is Brooks The Insurmountable really able to put his foot down on Messi?
I don’t have the answers, that much is clear. But for the first time all year, I’m willing to concede that Jurgen Klinsmann might.
This post was composed by freelance writer and swell guy, Asher Kohn. Reach out to him and discuss all the soccer happenings from around the world on Twitter at:@AJKhn.
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