Copa America semifinal preview: USMNT v Argentina

And so it’s happened. The US finally won a so-called “big game” and is into the semifinals of a major tournament. For all the caveats one might want to bring up—about the strength of the opponents or the underperformance of big teams like Brazil and Uruguay, or quibbling about whether this tournament is even all that big—it’s undeniably a significant achievement for the US and for Jurgen Klinsmann.

Of course, when you win big games, it just gives you bigger games to play, and they don’t come much bigger than Argentina. You could argue the US hasn’t played a game against this big an opponent in this big a moment since the US faced Germany in the 2002 World Cup. You know, when this happened. On that day, the US was the better team for long stretches. It’s unlikely the US will manage the same feat tomorrow, regardless of the result.

But “being the better team” never won anybody anything. All that matters is who scores more goals.


Making the task more difficult for the US is enforced lineup changes. Klinsmann turned over a new leaf in this tournament, finally finding a starting lineup he liked and sticking with it. It worked. The team gelled in a way that it hasn’t often done, and the result was a stingy defense allied with some excellent counter-attacking offensive play. In back, John Brooks has been the star. But up front, Bobby Wood has played an integral role in making the team tick going forward, supported with incredible work out of the midfield from Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones, and now all three will miss out through suspension. The appeals against Jones’s and Wood’s suspensions were denied so the US must plan for the game without them.

Let’s start up front. Wood has blossomed into a true No. 9, able to lead the line and force play closer and closer to the opposition’s goal, bringing the rest of the team along with him. Like Jozy Altidore, there’s no one else on the roster who does what he does. Gyasi Zardes doesn’t hold the ball in the same way, and while Chris Wondolowski holds the ball well, he doesn’t have the speed in behind that Wood brings.

Replacing Jones and Bedoya, meanwhile, probably means bringing in Kyle Beckerman and upsetting the vibe Michael Bradley has gotten into by pushing him forward into the No. 8 role. Klinsmann has been unwilling to ask Christian Pulisic or Darlington Nagbe do the work asked of wingers in the US’s 4-4-2 thus far, so bringing either in would require a reversion to the 4-3-3 that the US abandoned to such positive effect earlier in the tournament.

Losing three starters means there are no perfect solutions, just the least of a few evils. Klinsmann picking the right one might be the difference between playing for first or playing for third.


Gonzalo Higuain. Sergio Aguero. Javier Mascherano. Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega. Marcus Rojo. Nicola Otamendi. Sergio Romero. Ezequiel Lavezzi. Erik Lamela. Nicolas Gaitan.

Okay, I need to stop. There are just too many really, really good players to list. You get the idea. And it isn’t just the attackers the US needs to worry about. Argentina has allowed just two goals so far, one to Venezuela, and one to Chile. You know, Chile, who just lit up Mexico for 7? They only got one past Argentina.

But really, it’s all about the one name I haven’t listed yet: Lionel Messi. He’s arguably the best player ever to live. He has not always been at his best for his national team, but he dragged them to the final of the 2014 World Cup on his own, and is playing well in this tournament. There’s no recipe for keeping him quiet, except playing with discipline. The US will need a lot of it.


The key for the lineup is minimizing disruption, so no non suspension related lineup changes, no switching Fabian Johnson out of a very effective defensive unit. I see Beckerman coming in for Jones, Graham Zusi for Bedoya, and Wondolowski for Wood. That keeps the maximum number of people in the roles they’ve had. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will be enough, and the US falls: USA 1–3 Argentina. Argentina have too much firepower. But that said, the US can truly be proud of what they’ve accomplished in this tournament, no matter what.


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    The only thing I hear, is – The Imperial March.

  2. I don’t know who the fastest two strikers on the squad are, but they should start, the other nine men play behind the ball, defend as though their lives depend on it, hope to score one or two goals on the counter, hope for penalties at the end, but I’m afraid things could get Messi for US

    • Know what I’d like to see if/when the opportunity likely arises…. Every single fan who attends that game- standing up around the 75th minute waving a white handkerchief.
      The ultimate sign of respect… and a CLEAR indication the understanding in this nation is on the uptick despite the media ignorance of people like Francesca and Cataldi.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    Let’s be honest. Most of us will be happy if they keep the game closer than Mexico did Saturday night.
    On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a great story if the tournament ends on Sunday with a rematch of the first game on June 3?

  4. I just hope they keep it respectable………

  5. Park the bus…ten men behind the ball. maybe a lucky counter. hope for PKs… which you have less than 25% odds of winning anyway– which not incidentally is 20% greater chance than you have of playing Argentina straight up and winning.
    The minute, think about it….the very minute– this team comes out of any tight defensive shape it will be horrible… and it will get away from them very fast… and leave a pretty sour taste after a rather respectable tournament.
    Parking the bus as a national identity is wrong, but in a one off game against vastly superior talent, you do it and don’t make any PRETENTIOUS statements about arriving if you win. You just humbly move on…

  6. I agree with all 3 of the suggested subs, and I agree with the result too. If we keep it to within 2 goals against Argentina I think we call it a moral victory.

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    ANY legitimate chances must be scored. Period. That is only way this game is even remotely close (or dare I say winnable in PKs?!) Miss one chance, and you’re done.
    I have a feeling this plays out like the Union vs Sounders Open Cup Final. We hang for a while and some subs come on for Argentina and make a world of difference. We shall see.

  8. Honestly I hope they don’t bunker and pray like hell. Venezula had some pretty decent opportunities. I think they could have gone into half up 3-2 with a little better luck and a non shit PK.

    I think you’ve got to press them higher up the pitch and hope that a Beckerman-Bradley double pivot and a pretty strong back 4 can put out some fires.

    I think you have a better chance to beat them 3-2 than 1-0 or 1-1 on PKs.

    • With all due respect to your POV— Have you been watching Argentina?
      Unless your press looks something like Chile’s against Mexico, Argentina WILL shred you….6-0 7-0….. I’m sorry….I disagree 100%. Teams like Argentina play in space… and unless EVERY piece of space is properly accounted for you lose— BIG TIME. Humiliating. With a coach who allows his team to FIGURE it out… this will never work.
      Bunker and pray for a quality lethal counter through Dempsey… once- may….be twice. Route 1 all the way in this game.
      Coming from a guy who detests Route 1.

  9. Beckerman will end up with a red card at some point

  10. I’m guessing JK goes with:
    Might consider Castillo instead of Besler for more speed or Nagbe for Zusi in the starting lineup but I think JK goes with veterans.
    Going on the assumption that JK will stick with the 4-4-2, as he should because the team has looked much better since switching to it in the second game. I have a feeling Johnson will be on the wing because the other options are Pulisic, who is not as much of a two-way player, or Nagbe, who plays inside more often then on the wing. The only other option is playing Wondo up top and Zusi and Zardes on the wings, however, that does not leave you with a forward to come of the bench fresh later in the game.

    • Little interesting piece of news about the lineup:
      In practice yesterday the lineup was: Guzan, Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, Johnson; Zusi, Beckerman, Bradley; Pulisic, Dempsey, Zardes

  11. i thought the same watching Mexico shredded by Chile. it was really over by 50th min. the end of that was pounding a guys head into hamburger meat. anything other than an embarrassment like that is what i hope for. i love argentina too, so a victory for either will be an exciting final.

  12. Gary Lineker says:

    Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

  13. alicat215 says:

    Man, these comments seem like the team is about to embark on the Bataan Death March! Funny stuff……..

  14. I thank God none of the naysayers here play for the team. Every one on the team has played and found success against some of the best in the world. US beat Spain in the Confed at the peak of their powers. Belief is a major part of the equation. Let’s go, USA!

    • Watch tonight how this game starts…the first 20 min or so- a growing sense of security as Messi plumps around, looks a bit disinterested, positionally unawares… watch the feeling you get as you begin to think, hey we’re in this thing we’re containing the greatest player of all time…taking in all the information and tendencies…watch closer then as analysis in an instant switches to application, – the scorpion, its tail, neuromuscular failure and death.

  15. Herr Elephant,

    You missed your calling! You should have been a General in the French army. It’s never too soon to quit; you don’t want someone to think you care.

    Al C

  16. Please no on starting Wondo. To me, that’s not being courageous, but boring and “safe”. Find a way to get someone dangerous out there (Nagbe, Pulisic), bunker and counter with speed through the few dangerous players out there (Dempsey, Pulisic/Nagbe, Zardes, Bradley).

  17. alicat215 says:

    Freakin Chris “stone touch” Wondolowski…………WTF!

  18. Lucky Striker says:

    Wonderful night. Want to thank the Argentine MNT for taking time out of their busy schedule to kick American ass for just cause……just ’cause they needed it.

    Coaching masterclass by “Save the” Tatas Martino reminds the USA that their place on the world stage is pretty much that crusty gum spot that nobody can ever manage to scrape off with a razor-so they just cover it over with a flagpole.

    All American player grades =Joseph Blutarski’s GPA

    Used to be the one position America was decent at producing was keeper, which made sense for innate athletic reasons. Evidence of how far they’ve slipped that now they just line up a scared crow. Messi felt sorry for him. Told him where to stand for his FK-then told him it didn’t matter anyway…….

    Leo should be especially commended for showing up big all evening. Might be the first time he hasn’t tried to evade his responsibilities in any contest played in the state of Taxes….

    Hell; even Federico’s less talented sibling chipped in a brace.

    All the great leagues represented tonight:

    Siri Ah.
    Preemie League
    lol liga
    Bundles League A
    and ML less.

    Now that the preliminaries are over we can all move on to the main course when the Paun Stars face the Curtin Calls on Wed.

    Speaking of which:
    He might be a total scrub, but I think Philly could use that Ever Banega character. All they need is some Garber bucks to gazump (is that a word?) Inter. Guy looks good in blue at least. Get on it Stewie……….

  19. In Your Face America says:

    “ML less” = brilliant

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