Houston, TX. – It didn’t take long to realise that Tuesday night was not going to be one of those nights that would see the U.S. MNT produce a historic upset along the lines of the 2009 Confederations Cup win over Spain, in fact, it took just three minutes to find out.
Three minutes for an unmarked Ezequiel Lavezzi to ruin that notion when he converted a sublime Lionel Messi chip over an indecisive Brad Guzan setting the stage for an impressive if routine 4-0 Argentina victory.
83 minutes remained to be played but after the game, with the disappointment of losing still fresh, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said: “it was very difficult, especially after three minutes being one nil down, it was quite a knock.”
It would prove to a knock the Copa America Centenario hosts would not recover from. Klinsmann noted that “we couldn’t compensate for the fact that we missed those three guys,” the three being Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood.
Klinsmann was right in that those losses were too much for the U.S. to absorb, and while it was always going to be a challenge, the coach who had gotten most everything right up until now in this Copa100, got his subs wrong on the night.
Which is not to say that any 11 men available to the U.S. tonight were liable to give this Argentina side a game. Still, playing Chris Wondolowski was a curious decision, given the availability of Gyasi Zardes.
The Wondo move backfired when the San Jose Earthquake forward fouled Lionel Messi after his turnover had gifted the ball to the best player in the world.
Even Wondo’s inclusion on this roster was controversial with many clamoring for Jordan Morris instead but Klinsmann trusts and respects the 33-year-old who stopped to answer a question or two from GotSoccer after the loss.
Argentina is known for its offensive prowess but much like Messi’s club team Barcelona, La Albiceleste should also be feared for its swarming, choking defense, a defense that Wondolowski said the Americans had prepared for. “Yeah, we’ve scouted them in depth and we knew their characteristics but sometimes it’s very difficult to execute.”
That defense had its role in forcing a host of U.S. turnovers, including the Wondolowski giveaway that led to his fouling Messi just 25 yards from Brad Guzan’s goal.
Wondolowski admitted to a sinking feeling when the referee whistled him for that infringement. “Definitely, it’s one of those things when you wish you could take it back but it was on the break and I was just hoping to get some of the ball.”
That said, in a tournament that has been justly criticized over its high ticket prices, Messi’s goal was well worth the price of admission, whichever team you were rooting for.
While acknowledging Argentina’s obvious ability, Klinsmann felt, “we gave them far too much respect.” Center back Geoff Cameron agreed with his coach and gave a neat summation of the match.
“You can’t take anything away from them, they’re a very good team,” the Stoke City man began. “They’re clinical, make a mistake, one or two opportunities and they put the ball in the back of the net and that,” Cameron said, “is the difference.”
As for his own team? “We had some good spots where we showed some promise but nothing really came out of it. We let them dictate the pace of the game, we let them get the flow, we weren’t physical enough. “I think,” Cameron said, echoing his manager, “we respected them too much.”
To Cameron’s point, this was a game where the Americans needed to play mistake-free soccer, and mistakes led to all four Argentina goals. Poor marking and Guzan’s hesitation on the first, Wondolowski’s turnover and foul on the second, inattentiveness by John Brooks on the third and a terrible decision to play a dummy 20 yards from his own goal by substitute Steve Birnbaum ,which led to the final tally.
Although it felt like the end for the U.S. the home team still has the third place match to play Saturday in Phoenix. The Yanks will need to shake off this disappointment quickly with either Chile or Colombia up next.
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati was on hand and when GotSoccer asked the President if he felt better about the team than he a couple of weeks ago Gulati indulged in a touch of gallows humor. “Well, I felt better about the team three hours ago,” Gulati said. “Listen, we just lost a game where we weren’t really in the game after the first few minutes, so it’s hard to ask me about feelings. Today’s a disappointment; that it wasn’t a more competitive game but overall the performance of the team to get here, obviously that’s a positive.”
Klinsmann too felt that the experience had been a good one for the growth of the U.S. team but when he was asked when his team might narrow the gap with Argentina, the normally loquacious coach was stumped. “Oh, that’s a tough one,” a tired-sounding Klinsmann offered honestly, before concluding,”I don’t have that answer right now.”
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 0 0
ECU 2 2 4
ARG – Ezequiel Lavezzi (Lionel Messi) 3rd minute
ARG – Lionel Messi 32
ARG – Gonzalo Higuain 50
ARG – Gonzalo Higuain (Lionel Messi) 86
USA: 1-Brad Guzan; 2-DeAndre Yedlin, 20-Geoff Cameron, 6-John Brooks, 23-Fabian Johnson; 19-Graham Zusi, 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 15-Kyle Beckerman (3-Steve Birnbaum, 60), 9-Gyasi Zardes; 8-Clint Dempsey (10-Darlington Nagbe, 78), 18-Chris Wondolowski (17-Christian Pulisic, 46)
Subs not used: 5-Matt Besler, 12-Tim Howard, 14-Michael Orozco, 16-Perry Kitchen, 21-Edgar Castillo, 22-Ethan Horvath
Not available: 7-Bobby Wood, 11-Alejandro Bedoya , 13-Jermaine Jones
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
ARG: 1-Sergio Romero; 16-Marcos Rojo (15-Victor Cuesta, 84), 13-Ramiro Funes-Mori, 17-Nicolas Otamendi, 4-Gabriel Mercado; 8-Augusto Fernandez (6-Lucas Biglia, 59), 14-Javier Mascherano, 19-Ever Banega; 22-Ezequiel Lavezzi (18-Erik Lamela, 67), 9-Gonzalo Higuain, 10-Lionel Messi (capt.)
Subs not used: 2-Jonathan Maidana, 3-Facundo Roncaglia, 5-Matias Kranevitter, 7-Angel Di Maria, 11-Sergio Aguero, 12-Nahuel Guzman, 21-Javier Pastore, 23-Mariano Andujar
Not Available: 20-Nicolas Gaitan
Head Coach: Gerardo Martino
Stats Summary: USA / ARG
Shots: 0 / 14
Shots on Goal: 0 / 9
Saves: 5 / 0
Corner Kicks: 1 / 4
Fouls: 12 / 7
Offside: 2 / 9
USA – Chris Wondolowski (caution) 31st minute