After a 2-1 victory over Ecuador in the Copa America quarterfinals, the USMNT need to answer line up questions before a likely match with Lionel Messi and Argentina in the semis on June 21.
Survive and advance. That has been the motto for the USMNT ever since they lost 2-0 to Colombia in their opening match of Copa America, and they were able to live up to the motto on Thursday night.
The USMNT pulled out a gritty 2-1 victory over Ecuador behind a Clint Dempsey goal in the 22nd minute (assisted by Jermaine Jones) and a Gyasi Zardes goal in the 65th minute (assisted by Dempsey).
However, despite the historic victory which will land the US in only their second ever Copa America semifinals (1995) they now have multiple questions to answer before a likely matchup with Argentina on June 21. The USMNT won’t know their specific opponent until Argentina and Venezuela play their quarterfinal game on Saturday, but Argentina are the favorites in that one.
The specific questions Jurgen Klinsmann and the US coaching staff are going to have to answer are who is going to replace Bobby Wood (suspended on yellow card accumulation), Angel Bedoya (suspended on yellow card accumulation), and Jermaine Jones (suspended for Red Card in Ecuador game). All three of these players have been absolutely crucial to the US thus far into the tournament.
Booby Wood has been a work horse up top, making runs behind defenses and making the back line of every team work extremely hard to make sure he is not breaking free for goals every 5 minutes. Along with this impressive work, his ability to retain possession has allowed Clint Dempsey to play underneath where he is infinitely more comfortable. This has led to Dempsey’s incredible success in the past 3 games, with 3 goals and 3 assists.
Jermaine Jones has to sit out for a rookie mistake in which he picked up a red card for hitting an Ecuadorian player in the face right after Antonio Valencia was sent off. This is a big hit to the center midfield where he has been so crucial not only going up to help create opportunities and score, but also helping in his own half making some really key defensive plays. Also, after three games for him and Michael Bradley to learn to play the center of the 4-4-2 effectively, Bradley will have to try to sync up with a new teammate in the middle in a semifinal game against the #1 team in the world.
Angel Bedoya, who arguably has to sit out because of a coaching error from Klinsmann who didn’t sub him out before he picked up a yellow that put him over the yellow card accumulation limit even though he looked like his tank was on E, was a huge part of the US counterattack. His work rate in the outside midfield position was second to none and he was able to make big plays for the US on both sides of the ball, much like Jones.
Klinsmann can either go with youth with the likes of Pulisic, Nagbe, and Kitchen, or he can trust his experienced players like Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi to fill these positions. I’m sure there will be many people calling for it both ways, but in the end the person with the final say is Klinsmann.
He will have to decide if he thinks his youth has the composure to perform well in what would be their biggest game in a US jersey to date, or if the experience will be able to have enough stamina to go the full 90 as a united 11.
If I were Klinsmann I would move Zardes to the top of the 4-4-2 with Dempsey, and bring in Nagbe, Zusi, and Beckerman to team up with Michael Bradley for those four midfielder positions (Nagbe being the 2nd center mid). I think this is the most logical formation, but we will see what Klinsmann will do.
Though the USMNT has these questions to answer, don’t expect them to roll over in Houston. In a Copa America semi on home soil, whoever is on the pitch will come to play and try to put the US through to the final. It should be a classic.