The United States men's national team was ousted in the Copa America Centenario semifinals Tuesday night in Houston, falling by a 4-0 margin vs. top-ranked Argentina. The U.S. fell behind early, giving up a 3rd minute goal and never truly threatened to get back into the game. A spot in Saturday's Third Place Match vs. the loser of Colombia-Chile awaits. Here's what we learned:
"They are who we thought they were..."
Yet in this case, the USMNT never came remotely close to having it's opponent on the hook.
Argentina is the best team in the world. Lionel Messi is the best player in the world. We knew these things before the game. Losing this game was not a surprise, nor was it especially surprising to lose it decisively. What was surprising was the way it went down.
The U.S. played scared from the opening whistle and paid a heavy price. Jurgen Klinsmann said afterward, "I think in general we had far too much respect for them." Well, he should count himself amongst that number, because his starting lineup selections had much to do with fostering that attitude.
With three players missing due to suspensions, Klinsmann had choices. In all cases, he chose the older, allegedly "more experienced" player. Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic are better players than the ones Klinsmann chose. When you have better players available and don't select them, it means you don't quite trust them; that you fear they'll make mistakes. As a result, the team that actually took the field looked terrified to make a mistake.
The Americans began this game fearing the mighty Argentina. They got exactly what they expected.
Bradley as an attacking mid? I thought we had this conversation.
Look, I like Kyle Beckerman. He's a fine player, and he's been an effective player for the U.S. over the years. But he's also not Jermaine Jones. That's neither a criticism nor a shortcoming, they're just different players with different skill sets.
The success of the USMNT over the past several weeks can be attributed to many things, but you can't get too far down the list without acknowledging the role of Michael Bradley. He's most effective as a deep-lying six, with a partner in front of him who can provide good hold-up play.
The introduction of Beckerman into the lineup was always going to force Bradley higher up on the field. It did, and the results were predictable. Turnovers under pressure, passes to nowhere, poor decisions, and he never looked comfortable. Bradley needed an outlet to link up with Clint Dempsey, who was rendered invisible by a midfield that couldn't keep the ball, even on the counter. That outlet could have been, and should have been, Nagbe.
It's time to move on.
And when I say it's time, I mean now. Right now.
The younger players on this roster need to start on Saturday night. Whether the United States finishes third or fourth in this tournament is of no real consequence. The opponent will be very difficult again, and it's a challenge that players like Nagbe, Pulisic, Wood, Kitchen, and Horvath need to experience.
Numerous players on the wrong side of 30 have performed well in this Copa. Jermaine Jones (34), to be sure, was invaluable. Graham Zusi (30 in August) played well. Geoff Cameron (31 next month) was solid, but isn't getting any younger. Kyle Beckerman (34) and Chris Wondolowski (33), who contributed minimally, won't be heading to Russia. Even Clint Dempsey (33) can't be relied upon forever.
Start the kids, and start as many as you can. They'll be needed as World Cup Qualifying heats up again this fall. Initiate the process now. There's a competitive match on Saturday night against a FIFA Top 5 opponent. Take advantage of this opportunity to build a foundation with players that will be critical to USMNT success over the next two-plus years, and beyond. Let's begin to find out what we have. There won't be another stage like this before the summer of 2018 arrives.