Can USA go all the way with Jürgen K?

There are three superpowers left in the Copa America and one host who, by rights, maybe shouldn’t even be there. But they are - and a Hollywood ending is only 180 minutes away for the USA.


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This is one unique Copa America, if it wasn’t enough already - being played in the United States of America, a year after the last one, with Brazil already knocked out and one knockout match decided by a seven-goal margin. 

Paramount and Universal ought to have their pencils at the ready: Team USA, or the USAMNT, are still alive. Against all odds. 

Let me be the first to salute. I couldn’t write them off quickly enough when Colombia skittled them in the opening match of the tournament.

The game immediately put the USA on the back foot - a disastrous proposition not only for the team but the tournament itself. 

Any tournament is infinitely better the longer the hosts stay in the game. Nowhere is that better illustrated right now than in France, and as seen previously a year ago in Chile, 18 months ago in Australia and two years ago in Brazil. 

The hosts are always a tournament’s most important team. And despite that horrible start, beaten by Colombia 2-0, USA is putting everything together at the right time.

It’s debatable how this team shapes up against previous editions, especially in terms of star quality. The days of Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Howard and a peak-form Clint Dempsey seem a lifetime ago.

But in their their wake has come a gritty, erstwhile group, overseen by adopted son Jürgen Klinsmann, one that seems acutely aware of the opportunity that sits before them. 

They have the chance to put American football on the map in a way that hasn’t been done since the USA hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

They’re now within touching distance of the trimmings that come with being an American champion: national folklore, White House gatherings, talk show invitations, ESPN 30-for-30 documentaries and sponsorship opportunities from Portland to Philadelphia. 

Just for good measure, Wednesday’s (AEST) semi-final clash (LIVE on SBS) really does have ‘Miracles on Ice’ proportions about it. Right now, there is no way known that the USA can defeat Argentina in Houston. 

The Argentines are too good. Too focused. Too determined to end 23 years of wrongs - a staggering drought for a world-class team. 

It’s almost impossible for an hyperbole to match the quality of Argentina’s front third - Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel Di María, and Sergio Aguero - arguably three of the world’s top ten forwards, with the world’s best, Lionel Messi, weaving it all together.

Compounding everything for the USA is that the tireless Jermaine Jones, the dangerous Bobby Wood, and the tough Alejandro Bedoya have all been suspended, meaning Klinsmann has to dig deep into his reserves to see out the 90 minutes. 

With Dempsey taking up one of the two forward positions, Gyasi Zardes’s pace would make him a natural fit in Jones’s place. If he shifts up top, Graham Zusi can come in to the right midfield. 

In any case, their standard 4-4-2 formation will probably spend most of its time as a 4-5-1, with Zardes coming back to help the midfield clog the space, and then breaking quickly on the counter-attack. 

Jones and Bedoya are massive blows, particularly as midfield is where the USA have the least cover. Kyle Beckerman, a 34 year-old veteran, will replace Jones in the middle, with Bedoya’s replacement not so obvious. Perhaps young Darlington Nagbe? 

Either way, what you can bank on is a full-blooded performance from Klinsmann's team, even if they won’t be launching wave after wave of attacks on the visitors’ goal. Far from it - expect 90 minutes of hardcore defending. 

Fortunately, at the back is probably where the USA are at their strongest.

John Brooks is having a career-defining tournament, with Klinsmann offering the highest of post-match praise: "All of Europe is watching". Stoke’s Geoff Cameron is his solid, reliable partner. 

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan has put aside his troubles with Aston Villa to appear as the natural successor to Howard and will need to be at his very best against Los Albicelestes. 

The wing-backs, Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin, will need to curb their attacking instincts and instead dedicate their time to minding Messi and Di Maria.

It would be one of the all-time great tournament upsets should the USA pull it off. But in the land of the silver screen, don’t rule out a finish that wasn’t in the script. 

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5 min read
Published 21 June 2016 at 10:44am
By Sebastian Hassett