The U.S. national team’s run at the 2016 Copa America Centenario is over (mostly — they’ll still play the loser of Colombia versus Chile in the third-place game on Saturday). It should be said, before anything else, that the Yanks reached Jurgen Klinsmann’s stated goal in advancing all the way to the semifinals.
On the whole, this tournament was a success for a USMNT that so badly needed a run of positive results in order to re-establish a semblance of excitement and intrigue around U.S. Soccer. In that vein, it was a success. In wondering whether or not it means a step forward for the program, much less is clear…
The lineup was wrong, but we knew that (Part 1)
Disclaimer: No lineup Klinsmann could have selected would have resulted in anything even marginally better than what transpired Tuesday night. Inversely, no lineup Klinsmann could have selected would have resulted in a performance worse than the one we witnessed Tuesday night.
Kyle Beckerman as one half of a midfield-two versus Argentina? It’s easily the most offensive thing Klinsmann has done in his five years as USMNT head coach — and there have been some doozies. Klinsmann failed to realize this game would be too fast for a 34-year-old defensive midfielder who only ever sits in front of the backline. That’s a serious problem.
Not only is it an obvious misstep on paper and in theory, but has been such in practice on a number of occasions over the last 24 months. I wish I didn’t see this coming, but…
[ FULL RECAP: USA 0-4 Argentina ]
The lineup was wrong, but we knew that (Part 2)
In the year 2016, Chris Wondolowski started a semifinal against Argentina in a major tournament. With Bobby Wood suspended, we all knew Klinsmann would pick Wondolowski rather than moving Gyasi Zardes, an athletic, physical forward who actually complements Clint Dempsey (sort of), up top. Wondolowski’s a canny operator inside the penalty, but here’s the problem: the ball just about never got into Argentina’s penalty area, where he excels. Instead, that photo at right is the entirety of his contributions on the night. Over the course of 90 minutes, the USMNT failed to register a single shot. Not a shot on goal — a shot. Not great!
How I’d have done it, because someone will demand to know: Zardes starts up top; Graham Zusi plays wide right; Fabian Johnson starts wide left; Matt Besler starts at left back. Far from ideal, but functional.
What made the defense so strong in the USMNT’s victory over Ecuador was the (essentially) three-man backline of Besler, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Three mobile center backs, they’re capable of covering a lot of ground and stepping into passing lanes after making smart reads. Alejandro Bedoya, who was suspended against Argentina, served as the de facto left back, shielding Besler, actually a central defender, while deployed wider than usual. It was a wise tactical wrinkle from Klinsmann. Johnson, for everything he is as an attacker, isn’t a great defender, so throwing him back out wide to defend Lionel Messi was unwise in hindsight.
Messi is the greatest, and it was a pleasure losing to him
What is there to say about this guy at this point? He’s inarguably the best player in the world, and he’s probably, at the age of 28, the best player in the history of the game. But you knew that already. The 2015-16 season was statistically his worst in seven years — he still scored 41 goals in 49 games for Barcelona (all competitions).
At this point, we’re numb to the numbers, though. We’re numb to the goals that leave us without words. We’re numb to the fact that we live on the same planet, at the same time, as someone who can do this … and that’s a truly beautiful gift we’ll never deserve.
Now go win you a major tournament, Messi, so the haters can no longer trot out that tired excuse for why you’re not the greatest ever.