The US recovered after a poor start in Copa America, proving they have the grit and the charisma to reach the semifinals.
Copa America Centenario’s quarterfinal round starts on Thursday with the US National Team facing Ecuador in what’s expected to be a favorable home environment in Seattle. It’s a great spot to be in for the Americans, who claimed the top spot in Group A after recovering from a lackluster opening performance against Colombia.
Since that 2-0 loss, the hosts’ journey has been on the upswing. The US ran rampant as they defeated Costa Rica 4-0 and then followed with a gritty 1-0 victory over Paraguay. As the winners of the so-called ‘Group of Death’ of the tournament, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann called for his players to leave aside the underdog mentality they tend to carry against top South American teams.
“The whole old story is the underdog story,” Klinsmann said in a press conference after the US defeated Paraguay. “I cannot hear that story anymore. I want to see them try, risk things. Let’s go for it.”
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Klinsmann’s confident approach continued when the team arrived in Seattle, telling ESPN that his team is “hungry.”
“We want to prove ourselves against the top nations of South America,” he said. “It’s down to your belief; it’s down to your willingness to suffer. This is what the players will go through on Thursday night.”
The US will have to go through Ecuador, a team they defeated last month when both were preparing for Copa America. On that occasion, however, the South American side was missing key figures, including Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia and Monterrey’s Walter Ayoví.
For all the promise the Americans have shown in their last two games, there are concerns ahead of the game in Seattle. The US was dominated in the opening match by Colombia, who scored two first-half goals by exposing the American defense with pace and flair. Throughout the tournament, Ecuador has shown that they have the quality to do something similar with the likes of Jefferson Montero and Enner Valencia leading the attack.
The threat presented by Montero out wide will be particularly troubling for the US, especially considering that starting right back DeAndre Yedlin will be missing after picking up a red call against Paraguay. Klinsmann, who had used the same starting lineup for all the games in Copa America, might opt to replace Yedlin with Michael Orozco. He could also go for a more elaborate adjustment by starting Edgar Castillo on the left and have the always versatile Fabian Johnson take right back. Either way, Montero’s pace will be a handful for the Americans through those crucial 90 minutes.
Still, as effective as Ecuador can be, the US would be wise to heed Klinsmann’s advice: they are not the underdog. Recent history can serve as proof as the US has won three of the last five games against Ecuador. This time around, they come to the game knowing they can score through Clint Dempsey as a focal point and they’ll have the backing of the always loud Seattle crowd. As the decisive moment approaches for the US, their reality is clear: a semifinal spot has never seemed closer.