Just over a week ago most U.S. national team fans were complaining, downbeat and many were calling for Jurgen Klinsmann to be fired.
[ MORE: Latest Copa America news ]
Now, with the U.S. playing Ecuador in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinal in Seattle on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET), things are a lot different.
With Klinsmann’s boys battling back and putting in two superb displays to beat both Costa Rica and Paraguay to surprisingly clinch to spot in Group A in the process, the stars seem to be aligning for the USMNT.
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After Colombia fielded a weak side and loss to Costa Rica to hand the U.S. top spot in Group A, they will now meet Ecuador in front a hugely pro-U.S. crowd in Seattle at CenturyLink Field. That will be a massive advantage as they hope to advance to the semifinals.
With Brazil and Uruguay crashing out at the group stage, suddenly the U.S.’s path to the final four has opened up.
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However, if they get past Ecuador in the quarterfinals then they will likely face the winner of Argentina vs. Venezuela which hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it seems likely that will be the quarterfinal matchup. So, yeah, if the U.S. beats Ecuador they will likely have Lionel Messi and Argentina to get by, meaning their path to Copa America glory has a considerable roadblock in the way. Yet, they will also have two days extra rest compared to their potential semifinal opponents. Plenty is stacked in the USA’s favor as the host nation.
Even getting past Ecuador will be no easy task but only a few weeks ago Klinsmann’s side beat them 1-0 in a pre-Copa America friendly. It can be done and this is a huge opportunity they can’t afford to let slip.
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Before the Copa America began this summer, Klinsmann stated the hosts must get to the semifinal stage to deem this tournament a success. Many scoffed at him for saying so. Now, why should the U.S. limit themselves to the final four?
The USMNT has a settled back line with Brad Guzan playing well in goal, plus Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson solid as rocks and John Brooks playing out of his skin. In attack Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood continue to be pests and Clint Dempsey is at his opportunistic best. After so much tinkering over the past few years, Klinsmann finally seems to have found his best starting lineup and he stuck with it for all three group games.
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Despite all of the criticism, if the U.S. beats Ecuador then they would have exceeded expectations this summer and the 2015 Gold Cup debacle and struggling performances in their opening CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifiers would seem like a distant memory. Even if the U.S. falls to Ecuador, it’s likely that Klinsmann will still see his job through until after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Of course, Argentina look like the overwhelming favorites for the title and Mexico is also playing extremely well, but other than that, the U.S. shouldn’t be worried about anybody else. Even in the defeat to Colombia in the Group A opener on Jun. 3, there was a sense Los Cafeteros got a little lucky as the U.S. forgot their shooting boots but were still confident. If the U.S. reached the semifinal and somehow gets past Argentina, then one of Mexico, Colombia, Peru or Chile will await in the final. Overcoming one of those four certainly isn’t daunting for the U.S. after Brazil and Uruguay, two of the pre-tournament favorites, crashed out.
The reasons for optimism are mounting up: On home soil. Young players stepping up. Powerhouses crashing out. Everything seems to be slotting together rather nicely for the U.S. national team.
Now, can they seize their moment and go all the way this summer? Even if they go out to Argentina in the semifinal, this tournament will deemed a major success and a crucial stepping stone on the road to the 2018 World Cup, especially for the young players on this squad.
If you would’ve said that this time last week, plenty of U.S. fans would’ve called you crazy. Oh, how quickly things change in this beautiful game.
Klinsmann and his players are now on the verge of a breakthrough moment.