Fortune, as they say, goes to the brave, and that axiom proved true Wednesday night in Frisco, Texas when the U.S. MNT pulled out a late 1-0 victory over Ecuador on Darlington Nagbe’s 90th-minute goal after a second half turnaround keyed by substitutes Nagbe and Bobby Wood.
In this middle game of a three-game COPA America Centenario tuneup series, Jurgen Klinsmann sent the U.S. out in a safety first 4-3-3 featuring a veteran midfield of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Kyle Beckerman.
The lineup didn’t work as expected with the trio struggling to defend the pacey Ecuadorians while the U.S. back four barely hung on with help from newly christened number one keeper Brad Guzan.
Fullback DeAndre Yedlin was being tested by Ecuador’s elusive winger Jefferson Montero, who was finding gaps between Yedlin and center back Steve Birnbaum. John Brooks made some key interventions to keep the game goalless and the Americans had to be pleased to hear the shrill of the halftime whistle with those zeroes still on the board.
Chances were scarce for the U.S. in that opening 45 with Gyasi Zardes scuffing the team’s only real scoring chance with one his still all too frequent heavy touches.
A pair of double substitutions turned the match in the home team’s direction, with Klinsmann’s changes giving his side a braver, more dangerous look. Nagbe replaced Beckerman and Bobby Wood took over from Zardes on the restart, before Christian Pulisic and Alejandro Bedoya checked in for Dempsey and Jones in the 63rd and 64th minutes, the latter switch having a “Changing of the Guard” air about it.
As influential as the substitutions were, a positional change that saw Bradley fall back into a deeper midfield role, was equally so. It is a position that Bradley plays for Toronto FC and one that many observers have called for the U.S. captain to be used in, calls that Klinsmann has always resisted. The changes brought immediate dividends as the U.S. improved its possession, passing, and movement and went on to control the second half much as the visitors had the first.
In the end, it was fitting that Nagbe scored the 90th-minute winner, a skilfully taken volley after a fine move and cross from Yedlin.
The U.S face Bolivia Saturday in Kansas City, Kansas and then it is COPA time. After a run to the quarterfinals at last year’s regular COPA America, the wheels have fallen off the Bolivia bus with the manager resigning and the team going on to compile five losses in six World Cup Qualifiers, topped off with a 7-0 loss to Argentina in a recent friendly.
It will be one last chance for Klinsmann to tinker before he settles on a lineup for the COPA opener June 3rd in Santa Clara, California against a talented Colombia team.
Will bravery win the day for a U.S. Coach and Technical Director buoyed by his team’s second-half surge or will pragmatism win out in this final COPA walkthrough.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
ECU 0 0 0
USA – Darlington Nagbe (Bobby Wood) 90th minute
USA: 1-Brad Guzan; 2-DeAndre Yedlin, 3-Steve Birnbaum, 6-John Brooks (5-Matt Besler, 78), 23-Fabian Johnson; 15-Kyle Beckerman (10-Darlington Nagbe, 46), 19-Graham Zusi (14-Michael Orozco, 87), 13-Jermaine Jones (11-Alejandro Bedoya, 64), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.); 9-Gyasi Zardes (7-Bobby Wood, 46), 8-Clint Dempsey (17-Christian Pulisic, 63)
Subs not used: 12-Tim Howard, 22-William Yarbrough, 16-Perry Kitchen, 18-Chris Wondolowski, 20-Geoff Cameron, 21-Kellyn Acosta
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
ECU: 22-Alexander Domínguez (12-Esteban Dreer, 46); 4-Juan Carlos Paredes, 3-Frickson Erazo, 21-Gabriel Achilier (20-Robert Arboleda, 73), 5-Cristian Ramirez; 6-Christian Noboa (capt.) (8-Fernando Gaibor, 69), 18-Carlos Gruezo (15-Pedro Larrea, 59), 14-Angel Mena, 7-Jefferson Montero (11-Michael Arroyo, 64); 13-Enner Valencia, 23-Miller Bolaños (19-Juan Cazares, 68)
Subs not used: 1-Maximo Banguera, 9-Fidel Martinez, 17-Jaime Ayovi, 24-Mario Pineida
Head coach: Gustavo Quinteros
Stats Summary: USA / ECU
Shots: 5 / 3
Shots on Goal: 2 / 1
Saves: 1 / 1
Corner Kicks: 2 / 6
Fouls: 16 / 16
Offside: 0 / 2
ECU – Gabriel Achilier (caution) 22nd minute
USA – Jermaine Jones (caution) 26
ECU – Cristian Ramirez (caution) 35
ECU – Angel Mena (caution) 45