Houston, Tx. – Nobody was calling Argentina just another team, nor was anybody connected with the U.S. MNT coming off as anything approaching cocky, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players sounded quite happy to take on Argentina tomorrow night at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
Speaking to the media before training at the home of the NFL Houston Texans, Nacogdoches favorite son Clint Dempsey appeared unfazed while expressing excitement at the prospect of playing in Tuesday’s Copa America Centenario semifinals in his home state.
“It’s where it all started for me,” Deuce said of playing in Texas, “it’s where I grew up.” Dempsey continued, “I grew up watching South American soccer, watching Copa America and being able to play against some of these teams in this competition is awesome.”
While Dempsey will be trying to provide some offense for the home team, another player with strong Texas roots, former Houston Dynamo Geoff Cameron, will be charged with keeping Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and the rest of the potentially devastating La Albiceleste attack from lighting up the NRG Stadium scoreboard.
Asked how the U.S planned to contain Messi, Cameron didn’t hesitate. “Obviously, we know the caliber of player he is, world class he is, but you don’t want to allow him to have time on the ball where he can influence and pick the passes that can exploit the team’s defense.”
With fullback DeAndre Yedlin suspended erstwhile center back Matt Besler was pressed into service in the U.S. quarterfinals win over Paraguay at left fullback. Suspensions to three U.S. players, Bobby Wood, Jermaine Jones, and Alejandro Bedoya could see Besler called into action in that role again, a possibility the Sporting KC defender is taking in stride.
Besler said of playing the position against Paraguay, ”it helps, it helps.” “At the same time,” the World Cup veteran said, “it’s just one game, you’d like to probably have a couple more – if I do get that chance.”
While acknowledging Argentina’s quality Klinsmann was keen to point out the opportunity this match presents for his team. “We want to go further,” Klinsmann said, “we are very, very hungry for tomorrow night.” “Argentina, the U.S. coach went on, “I say it again, (don’t) talk them bigger than they are, they are who they are, but we left Ecuador behind us, we left Paraguay behind us, we left Portugal two years ago behind us, Ghana, so let’s give it a shot, we are hungry for tomorrow night.”
Of course, Argentina is a step or two up from those teams, Portugal included, in part because Messi seems to be at 100% fitness after being held out of Argentina’s first match, while Ronaldo was clearly not at his best during the 2014 World Cup.
Besler was asked if playing against Ronaldo helped to prepare for Messi, his answer? “It doesn’t help, they’re different players.” So, are there any players that you’ve faced that can compare to Messi?” Besler was asked. “I don’t think there’s a comparison to that guy,” Besler replied, drawing laughs.
Asked how you go about defending the five-time Ballon d’Or/World Player of the Year, Besler sounded genuinely unsure. “It’s hard,” Besler began, “because you say you want to get pressure on Messi and not let him have time on the ball, but how do you do that?” Besler continued, “even when guys step up to him and are right on him he finds a way to wiggle out of something and then he’s able to get his head up and play some of those balls he’s played in this tournament.” “It’s a huge challenge,” Besler notes, “probably the biggest challenge for us as a defensive unit.”
It is a huge challenge that the U.S. faces on Tuesday, but it is one the players relish. Just over 24 hours from game time Dempsey sounded as if he couldn’t wait. “Being in your home country, being able to play a game on this stage, if you don’t get excited about it then you shouldn’t be playing,” Dempsey said, “it’s a dream come true.”