U.S. men hold on for intense victory over Ecuador; await semifinal opponent.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, June 16, 2016) -- The United States men secured perhaps their most important victory under coach Jürgen Klinsmann by frenetically holding on for a 2-1 victory over Ecuador in the Copa América Centenario quarterfinals tonight in front of 47,322 fervent fans at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.
The Americans moved on to next Tuesday’s semifinal against the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal between Argentina (and Lionel Messi) and Venezuela in Houston
The U.S. prevailed in a match where each team had a player sent off simultaneously and there were several confrontations. Ecuador coach Gustavo Quinteros was sent off by Colombian referee Wilmar Roldán in the closing minutes.
The Americans recorded a quarterfinal triumph in a non-CONCACAF tournament for the first time since defeating Mexico in the 2002 World Cup.
Clint Dempsey was central to the Americans winning effort. He led off by putting the U.S. ahead 1-0 in the 22nd minute when he picked up a ball near the center of the offensive half and passed to fellow forward Bobby Wood, who carried it into the box. Dempsey was knocked to the ground, but he got up as Wood passed to defender Jermaine Jones at the top right corner of the penalty area.
Jones lofted the ball into the center of the box where Dempsey blasted a header past goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.
Dempsey was key to increasing the margin to 2-0 in the 65th minute when he passed to defender Matt Besler, who looped a high ball into the box. Dempsey picked up the Ecuadorian attempt to clear the ball, facing the left post a drilled a low shot bask the keeper and heading for the far post. The ball probably would have gone in on its own, but Gyasi Zardes was unmarked and tapped the ball into the net from inches away.
The match grew increasingly emotional as Ecuador tried to battle back. In the 52nd minute, Ecuador midfielder Antonio Valencia chopped down U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, receiving his second yellow card and ejection. Meanwhile, several players. including Jones started pushing each other. It appeared Jones took a swipe at the head of Ecuador midfielder Michael Arroyo. It did not look like he connected, but Roldán, attempting to maintain control, pulled out his red card and sent Jones off.
Arroyo got his revenge in the 74th minute when he scored to pull Ecuador to within 2-1 and, from there, it was a frantic Ecuador trying to pull even. The U.S. gamely fought on and held on for its hard-won win.
Klinsmann started the same team as he has for the tournament with the exception of replacing suspended DeAndre Yedlin with Besler. When Yedlin was ejected from the Paraguay match after earning a second yellow card, Klinsman had replaced him with Michael Oroczo. But tonight he used Besler, normally a central defender, and Besler responded with a terrific game.
So now the U.S. heads for a semifinal clash in Houston next Tuesday against the winner of the Argentina and Venezuela quarterfinal. He will have to do a masterful job of juggling his lineup because Jones will be suspended for tonight’s red card and both Bobby Wood and Bedoya will be suspended after picking up a second yellow in the tournament. Thus Klinsman will have to replace three key players who were key to the win tonight and have been key to the U.S. Group A wins.
U.S. Player Ratings:
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 7: He Made a big stop near the end of the first half and cleared several balls that could have been big trouble in the second half. He kept control of his area in a very impressive outing.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6.5: He moved over to the right side with Besler on the left flank. He was involved in duels with Jefferson Montero all night and usually came out on top. It was a very impressive game for the player who is clearly more comfortable in the midfield.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: He had one of those nights where he was clearly beaten a couple of times, but the plays ended up not really benefiting Ecuador. His good plays clearly outnumbered those where he lost his opponent, but at times he seemed luckier than good.
Defender John Brooks - 7: Once again, he was the mainstay of the U.S. defense. He won a number of aerial battles and made key clearances in both halves, but he was also able to start the play that resulted in the first American goal. Despite obvious fatigue, he stood tall through the final minutes.
Defender Matt Besler - 6: He had a hand in the second U.S. goal, but his main value was protecting a vulnerable left wing that Ecuador targeted. He did that well and was able to move the ball forward on a number of occasions.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 5: On the one hand, no one can question the effort he put out, but he remains mistake-prone. One miscue led to Ecuador’s goal and another almost cost the equalizer. He seemed a bit over-matched at times.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: He has played every minute of the tournament and began to show it as the second half progressed. He had a good first half, but as he wilted, he did not have the ejected Jermaine Jones to bail him out. His timid back pass almost did the Americans in. He needs some rest before Tuesday.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 7: He had a terrific assist on Dempsey’s first goal and was everywhere in the defensive end. He did not deserve the red card that sent him off but Jones, never one to back down from a challenge, seemed to slap an opponent. He will be the hardest man to replace in the semifinal.
Forward Bobby Wood - 6: On the plus side, he played a terrific game both on attack and defensively. On the negative, he committed a silly and unnecessary foul that earned a yellow card and a suspension from the next U.S. semifinal game.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 7.5: He continues almost inspired play in this tournament. He scored the first U.S. goal and likely would have had the second had Gyasi Zardes toed it in. He ran himself into near exhaustion in front of a home crowd in Seattle.
Forward Gyasi Zardes– 6.5: He maintained his high work-rate until late when he simply ran out of gas and became a last-minute liability, but his pace was critical to the Americans grabbing their 2-0 lead. He will be a key player for the semifinal with Wood not available.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman (74th minute for Dempsey) - 5: He did not enter the match at full speed and had trouble in the first minutes of his appearance. He played better in the final moments, but his was an uneven effort.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (81st minute for Bedoya) - 6: He did come in at top speed, managing to run balls out of danger in the closing minutes. His was a very needed contribution.
Defender Steve Birnbaum (93rd minute for Zardes) – no rating: Not just a time wasting replacement near the end of stoppage time, he needed to replace a fading Zardes. He managed one clearance in the dying seconds.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Clint Dempsey.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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