The US could not contain Lionel Messi and the Argentinian offense, and despite late substitutions, the USMNT falls to Argentina 4-0.
In 2009, the USMNT found a way to beat the #1 team in the world, Spain, in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. In the Copa America Centenario semifinals 7 years later, they had no such luck. The US fell 0-4 to the first ranked Argentinians in an embarrassing fashion.
The #1 and #31 teams in the world clashed on Tuesday night in Houston for the first Copa America semifinal game. The US had three members of their squad facing suspensions for cards, two for the accumulation of two yellow cards and one red card suspension. Forward Bobby Wood and Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya were out for the accumulation of yellow cards, while Jermaine Jones was out for a red card suspension. All three of these players started every game of the tournament until their suspensions. To replace them, Jurgen Klinsmann started Chris Wondolowski, Graham Zusi and Kyle Beckerman. This marked the beginning of the four goal defeat.
Within the first three minutes of the game, the US failed to mark not only Lionel Messi, but an open Ezequiel Lavezzi in the box. Lavezzi scored off a brilliant chip from Messi, and it only got worse for the US from there. The US tried to find a positive response to going down early, but their only response was to aid and abet the cause of the Argentinians. Sloppy passes and first touches fell at the feet of the Argentines and they capitalized on those unforced errors. The US deeply struggled with the simple task of completing a pass. In the 32nd minute, Chris Wondolowski had an unforced turnover that he tried to fix with a foul. In all his brilliance, Messi took the free kick and placed a work of art into the top lefthand corner of Brad Guzan’s goal. Yes, it was brilliant, but it never should have happened. The half ended with the USMNT down 0-2.
The second half started with a beacon of hope. At the half, Christian Pulisic was subbed for forward Chris Wondolowski, who hopefully has made his last appearance in the red, white and blue. This sub signaled that Jurgen Klinsmann and the US players might be ready to play some real soccer in the second half. Alas, they were not.
Christian Pulisic, to his credit, came in and injected some energy into a lineup that desperately needed it. However, it wasn’t enough. Pass still fell short and incomplete. More touches went to blue feet than white feet. Long balls didn’t connect. Nothing worked. Not even the late substitutions Klinsmann made to try to find an answer to the Argentinian threat. First, Kyle Beckerman came out and was replaced by the DC United defender Steven Birnbaum. Geoff Cameron moved into Beckerman’s open center midfield position and Birnbaum took the spot next to John Brooks. John Brooks had a fabulous tournament up until this game, but had an unremarkable performance. Birnbaum and Brooks together were astonishingly incompetent, letting up the fourth and final goal in the 86th minute of play. In a last ditch effort, Klinsmann subbed the Portland Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe for Clint Dempsey in the 78th minute, but it was too late for him to make a difference. Overall, this US team did not look like the one we have come to know. It was afraid and timid and sloppy and it genuinely looked like the players didn’t care by the end of the match.
That being said, I’m not sure if this result rests entirely on the shoulders of the players. Jurgen Klinsmann said after the 2014 World Cup that if the USMNT were to be more successful on an international level, they needed youth. However, he continues to turn to his older players. Kyle Beckerman is 34, and on the international level, he has consistently played at a skill level that is neither good enough, nor fast enough to make him an effective player. He’s a few years past his prime and if Klinsmann continues to favor players like him, we don’t stand a chance against the fast and physical play of the best teams in the world. We will have to settle for mediocrity.
Looking forward at the Consolation Game, Klinsmann needs to look down his bench and give his younger players a chance. He did a great job in the group stage of keeping the lineup consistent, and we got results. But once, adversity hit, Klinsmann reverted back to a roster we could have seen in Gold Cup. His young players need all the caps and minutes they can get if this program wants to be a contender in World Cup Qualifying again. While this performance is in the past, there are valuable lessons embedded in it, and if the USMNT doesn’t learn them they will have a hard time advancing internationally.