So ... the game against Ecuador. Whew, now that was a ride. A lot of players saw their Stocks go up. Especially Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya. Man, they had a game. Bobby Wood just terrorized that Ecuadorian backline. And Bedoya? Well, a lot of you readers out there don't seem to be too hot on him. Frankly, I don't quite get that. Dude's an absolute, consistent work horse; always there on attack and defense. But you know what? They're suspended for the semifinals. Instead of looking at them, let's talk about a few players who really shined and will be on the field Tuesday.
Before the start of the Copa America, and especially after the Colombia game, there were calls that Clint Dempsey be sidelined. People said that Dempsey loses possession a lot in midfield, lacks creativity, doesn't defend well, is hard to build around tactically, and is losing a step as he ages. All of these things are true. None of these things mattered in the game against Ecuador. Dempsey is the best attacking player in the US player pool. He may soon be the highest scoring player in US history. And, above all, Dempsey is a clutch player. He's getting into positions, creating assists for teammates, and he's tied for the lead scorer for the tournament. When the chips are down and the backs against the wall, Dempsey performs. Eventually we are going to have to have that discussion of sidelining Dempsey. But it's not going to be for a while.
Zardes' first touch is horrible.
Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about how Zardes has been quietly having a solid tournament. He's been fantastic tracking back and putting in defensive effort. On offense, he's been making a lot of good runs. That good effort hadn't quite shown up on the scoresheet until Thursday. Yeah, Zardes scored a tap-in. But give him credit. He made the run into the box to get on Besler's cross. He accurately played his header into Dempsey. And he got himself into position to make sure that ball got buried. Yeah, Zardes' first touch is not good (though it seems to have improved over the course of the tournament). But he's doing work for this team and he's being effective. Zardes had a great game, and I think he deserved that goal.
Going into the Copa America, Jurgen Klinsmann said that the USMNT should make it to the semifinals. Well, he made that happen. There were a whole lot of doubters. A lot of people were worried before the Colombia game about whether or not the US could even make it out of the group. Before the Copa America, a lot of people were calling for Klinsmann's job, including me. Klinsmann was criticized for putting players out of position, for lacking a tactical plan, for playing an ultra defensive and reactive game, and for grinding players until they got muscle strains. Well, he's improved as a manager and met all of those criticisms. Now, the players are almost all in the best positions and those who aren't are at least in familiar ones. The team came out and executed tactics brilliantly, not just against Ecuador, but in the previous two games as well. You can't say the team is playing delightful, possession soccer. But that first half of play from the USMNT was fun to watch, even if it wasn't possession oriented. And there hasn't been a single injury to an American player in this tournament. Klinsmann met his own expectations, and exceeded most of the fans.
Did you see that crowd? Or rather, did you hear it? That Seattle audience was loud, supportive, and massive. I know it wasn't a sell-out game, but that stadium looked amazing. Props to you, Seattle and all those fans who were able to make the game. You helped make that match special.
At some point, your stock can't go up anymore. Way to still be legendary, John Anthony Brooks.
Matt Besler came in and made himself useful in spite of playing an unfamiliar role. I actually kinda want to see him play left back again, because that trio of Besler, Brooks, and Cameron is pretty awesome.
We can't have a Stock Up/Down post without Yedlin in it, now can we? While out for suspension, Yedlin saw his position covered by Fabian Johnson with Matt Besler sliding into left back. The defense looked good with Besler playing almost like a third center back at times. Fabian Johnson was also much improved. On defense, he was quick and bright, shutting down space and cutting out attacks. He also looked great going forward into attack. All of this spells bad news for Yedlin. It seemed like the 22-year-old had right back locked down. But now there is an alternative that Klinsmann can trot out, one that held up against some strong wingers with Ecuador. And of course, sitting out due to a red card suspension is never a good luck. You should expect Yedlin to be back in the lineup for the next match against either Argentina or Venezuela, but his position's now up for debate.
Speaking of red card suspensions... In the first half, Jones was on another level. He was constantly forcing turnovers, punishing hesitation on the ball, and generally utterly terrorizing the Ecuadorian players when they had the ball. He launched attacks with his recoveries and pushed into the attack. It was Jones' light cross that assisted Dempsey's goal. On both attack and defense, Jones was lightening quick, looking like a man closer to 24 than 34. And then that second half. Going into the match, Jones said that he thrives on big games and that this was a big game. Well, that's not how you act in big games. After a hard tackle on Bedoya from Antonio Valencia (which earned him a second yellow), Jones got into an argument with an opponent and touched his face. Whatever you may think of the call — and I think it's bogus — Jones can't act like that. By his own admission, this was a big game and he lost his cool. Big time players don't do that.