It’s been nearly a week since the U.S. Men’s National Team closed the door on the Copa America and, in that week, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has taken the chance to look back at the highs and lows of what he sees as a positive tournament experience.
After finishing top of their group, the USMNT toppled Ecuador in the quarterfinals to reach Klinsmann’s goal of a semifinal berth. The ensuing match, a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Argentina, served as a major setback before the U.S. concluded the tournament with a 1-0 defeat to Colombia. Overall, the USMNT finished with three wins and three defeats.
However, Klinsmann reiterated his belief that the USMNT had a “huge mountain” in front of them considering the opposition. Colombia and Argentina are both counted among the world’s elite, and are considerably better than any team the U.S. will face in CONCACAF play. Given the unique opportunity to play in meaningful games against elite competition, Klinsmann was more than satisfied with how the tournament played out, especially given how far the U.S. advances.
“Our biggest take away from these last six weeks is the chemistry that this team developed,” Klinsmann said, “the talent we are bringing through one step at a time – there might be a step backwards then we have to make two forward, like the Argentina game is a step backwards, then the next one is two forward. It’s a team that really understands to drive it more and more themselves. I’ve always told the players to take things in their own hands. We want to empower the players to drive their own careers and they drive it to the maximum of their capabilities – it’s not the coaches, it’s not the outside, it’s themselves.
“It’s wonderful to see how they reacted to the first loss against Colombia and stepped it up against Costa Rica, which played really well the first 15 minutes, but then we turned on a totally different gear. This is the reaction you want to see from players – you want players to understand the moment and really take over. In this tournament, you saw a lot of players who took it on themselves, and this is big for a coach because you see that they’ve become stronger and confident to drive it themselves.”
Klinsmann pointed to several of his young players, and praised their growth throughout the tournament. Players like DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Bobby Wood made the leap from prospect to legitimate starter, entrenching themselves in the USMNT’s first-choice XI with a series of standout performances. Meanwhile, Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic integrated themselves into the team, earning sporadic minutes in their first major tournament.
Despite the presence of those newcomers, it was the USMNT’s veteran contingent that led the way. Clint Dempsey provided a trio of goals, while Jermaine Jones proved the most vital player in the USMNT’s midfield unit. Geoff Cameron thrived alongside Brooks, earning praise from Klinsmann for a series of “top-knotch” performances.
Even with the positive outlook on the tournament as a whole, the match against Argentina was one that disappointed Klinsmann. Undone just moments into the game, the U.S. never looked truly competitive. Momentum, and the scoreline, continued to tumble against the U.S., as the game ended as a blowout.
A third-place match against Colombia soon followed, one which finished with a much more manageable scoreline. Defensively, the U.S. rode a unit that was solid throughout the tournament, even in the absence of Brooks and Fabian Johnson. On the attacking end, the U.S. generated chances, even if they could never find a way past the Colombia defense.
“The team’s response after this game against Argentina – the number one team in the world – was outstanding,” Klinsmann said. “They kind of said, ‘Well, let’s swallow it and let’s give Colombia a real fight!’ Colombia took it the same way; disappointed with the defeat against Chile, but they also wanted to give it a real game.
“The level of the third-place game was unbelievably high. I think it was one of our best games within the last couple of years. For us, playing these types of games in such an environment is huge because it makes our players grow; therefore, their response has been fantastic.”
Overall, it was a tournament filled with highs and lows. After battling back from an opening game loss and the probable elimination that came with it, the U.S. topped their group and won a knockout game in a major competition. What happened after wasn’t always ideal, but it was enough to show Klinsmann that his team improved. The team that began the tournament was much different than the one that ended it, giving Klinsmann confidence heading into September’s World Cup qualifying.
“Reaching the final four, reaching that goal, is huge,” Klinsmann said. “Our players now see that we got a lesson from Argentina in the Semifinal, but also that if they raise their own game to another level or two or three levels higher from what they’re used to playing in CONCACAF, things are doable. You need to have that chance to play those teams, and the more often you play those teams, the more you believe you can go eye-to-eye with them.
“It’s a fantastic achievement to be in the final four. We wanted to win the third-place game, and it was a fantastic match with Colombia. They had that one goal and kept a clean sheet, so we didn’t put it in at the end of the day. But I think the learning curve we came through in this tournament was tremendous, and you have to give our team a huge compliment for the way they played.”