It very much seems a bit like we've just started all of this again, doesn't it? By virtue of a woeful Brazilian team and Haiti's swiss cheese defense, the Americans have Ecuador on tap with a spot in the semifinals at stake. The first real warm-up test the U.S. had this summer is now their do-or-die foe, and will be sure to give the Americans a sterner test than their first go.
It's an interesting American team at the moment. The players have really circled the wagons and found another gear inward after their opening loss to Colombia and widespread criticism from the media. Much like the opening to the Hexagonal qualifying tournament for the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. is back to grinding out results when they need it most. Is it the prettiest soccer in the world? No, and to mistake the last two results as coming from a suddenly dominant team would be over-simplistic, but they are getting results, which is what counts at the end of the day.
We (we the critics, the haters, etc etc) like to talk about performances and results as two different categories because the two don't always reflect each other. Poor performances can still sometimes get results. Even further, everyone disagrees on what a good performance actually is. Hence, Jurgen Klinsmann suggests the media didn't watch the game against Colombia and that the U.S. performed well despite a poor result, seemingly ignoring the fact that Colombia let the U.S. have the ball and the Americans still looked incapable of stringing three passes together in the final third.
The U.S. hasn't exactly turned up the heat on it's attacking prowess, instead reverting back to counterattack and defense. This is working, mostly because Klinsmann has possibly the best defensive line (Fabian Johnson not really being a defender notwithstanding) he's had in his entire tenure. So we might not be getting the attacking, assertive style that was promised so many years ago, but we are getting a style that is getting results.
W (1-0) - Paraguay - Copa America
W (4-0) - Costa Rica - Copa America
L (0-2) - Colombia - Copa America
W (4-0) - Bolivia - Friendly
W (1-0) Ecuador - Friendly
W (4-0) - Haiti - Copa America
D (2-2) - Peru - Copa America
D (0-0) - Brazil - Copa America
L (0-1) - United States - Friendly
L (1-3) - Colombia - WCQ
What to Watch For:
John MFn Brooks - John Brooks has come of age in this tournament, and cemented that notion with a heroic performance down a man against Paraguay. The successful 1-v-3 defense is legendary.
John Brooks (@j_brooks25) Defender of the Universe. #TeamUSA #USMNT https://t.co/GpXpglDM4Z— ❂ Yübbîę Umoh ❂ (@Yubbie007) June 12, 2016
That's the tackle of a man who is and will be a leader of this team. With DeAndre Yedlin suspended and the speed of Ecuador's flanks sure to test a steady but physically limited stopgap in Michael Orozco, Brooks will need to be big again if the Americans want to advance.
The Gas in the Tank - Klinsmann has started all three games of the Copa America with the same lineup, and he seems likely to do it again (except Yedlin, of course). But some of his players have logged serious miles and battles on their legs. Alejandro Bedoya in particular looked gassed against Paraguay, and Clint Dempsey's body has to be feeling it after going toe-to-toe with back lines for three games over the course of a week. Does the U.S. have it in them to take on another game of defend and counter? Or will fresher legs prevail?
X Factors - I think Ecuador comes hot out of the gates on this one. They were clearly the better team in the first half of the pre-Copa friendly, and won't take kindly to the thought of the United States being superior to them in any way. On the other hand, the U.S. will be playing in the very, very friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. The last time they played there, this happened:
The U.S. hasn't actually lost in Seattle since 1979, when they dropped 3-1 to...wait for it...the Soviet Union. The crowd might be just the bump they need to rejuvenate legs and keep the momentum rolling.
Alright, alright. I give in.
Orozco for Yedlin is a right back for right back swap, and the rest stays the same. I do think Ecuador would be an excellent chance to see Darlington Nagbe in the middle of a 4-3-3 again, since he excelled against them in their pre-tournament friendly, but I've pretty much given up hope of seeing him play in this Copa again. Klinsmann is relying on the U.S. to grind results out, so players like Zardes, Bedoya, and Graham Zusi (who I would guess would be the favorite to usurp anyone's starting position in this game, seeing as he's been Klinsmann's main man off the bench over the two victories in the Copa for the Stars and Stripes) will get in the game and get dirty.