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USMNT 2, Ecuador 1: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Jennifer Buchanan/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Jennifer Buchanan/USA TODAY Sports

As the final whistle blew signaling victory on Thursday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team rushed the field. Jubilation ensued, as the U.S. had reached their goal of a semifinal berth. Then, once the celebration had ended, the USMNT regrouped in a huddle, seemingly refocusing as the team prepared to face their next challenge.

Thursday’s win was not a final. It wasn’t even a semifinal. However, it was a pivotal moment for the USMNT, who emerged from the Copa America quarterfinals with a 2-1 win over Ecuador. It was just the third knockout round tournament victory over a non-CONCACAF opponent in 100 years, and was certainly one of the biggest and most gutsy performances of the Jurgen Klinsmann era.

It wasn’t pretty. After taking a 2-0 lead through goals from Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes, the U.S. battled throughout a second half that saw 10-on-10 soccer. They were forced to grind, and they did just that, earning a monumental victory over an opponent tougher than many will give them credit for.

A semifinal berth looms, one that will appear to be icing on the cake after the U.S. achieved their goal of a knockout round win. However, Thursday proved just another indication that the U.S. has some surprises up their sleeves. The Copa America is not over, and the USMNT will now look to clear the next hurdle after one of the team’s gutsiest wins in recent memory.

Here’s a look at several takeaways from Thursday’s USMNT win:


Since being named USMNT head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann has preached the need to be more proactive. In the first half of Thursday’s match, the U.S. ceratinly was, but the reason that the U.S. emerged victorious was a bit of old fashioned American desire.

On the international stage, the U.S. has long been recognized for being one of the most headstrong and strong-willed teams out there. Always greater than the sum of its parts, the USMNT doesn’t always win on skill or technique; rather they win on heart, grit and desire, something that has led the team to great heights, but never the promised land.

Throughout the Copa America, Klinsmann’s vision of proactive soccer has come to fruition. The U.S. took it to Costa Rica and looked the better side against Paraguay before a red card. On Thursday, it was more of the same, as the U.S. attacked Ecuador before a pair of red cards tipped the scaled for a rollercoaster second half.

That second half was won ugly. Call in grinding, call it CONCACAF-ing, call it whatever you like, but the U.S. did what they had to do to seal victory. It was a game that proved a blend or proactive and reactive, of push and pull, and one that, ultimately, ended in the USMNT’s favor.

The U.S. may never be Spain or Germany, but it’s easy to see that, technically, the team has moved forward. However, the heart and soul of the USMNT will always be just that: their heart and soul, a factor that led them to victory on Thursday night.


Heading into Thursday’s match, the USMNT knew they would have to win the mental battle if they were to topple Ecuador. In many ways, they didn’t, and while it didn’t cost them on Thursday night, the USMNT’s lack of composure will have major ramifications heading into the semifinals.

Say what you want about Jermaine Jones’ red card. You could say it was soft, because it probably was. You could say it was ridiculous because, once again, it probably was. But it was also potentially damning for a team that, to that point, was coasting. Paired with Antonio Valencia’s dismissal, Jones’ red card opened up the field, allowing Ecuador chance after chance to fire their way to a penalty kick shootout. Thanks to some gutsy defending and some even more wayward finishing, the USMNT survived on the night.

However, it’s not just about the night. Jones, Alejandro Bedoya and Bobby Wood are set for suspension, leaving the U.S. midfield crippled against what will almost certainly be a vicious Argentina attack. Wood’s yellow in particular, a display of frustration, was a disappointment, leaving the U.S. without one of their premier attacking options.

The USMNT’s lack of composure did not cripple them on the night, and Klinsmann can breathe a sigh of relief because of it. But, with a semifinal looming, the USMNT will have some shuffling to do, and another game that sees the U.S. lose their heads will almost certainly be their last of the tournament.


Matt Besler is not a left back, but you’d be surprised to find that out given his efforts on Thursday night.

Truth be told, Besler was largely invisible throughout Thursday’s match, but that’s exactly what Klinsmann would have asked for from the Sporting KC defender. Besler was disciplined, reliable and sturdy at a position that his not is own. He did not attack because he did not have to. Meanwhile, he was as defensively solid as one would expect from one of the pool’s elite central defenders.

Generally, Besler was exactly what he needed to be: a reliable presence on the left that wouldn’t get burned time and time again. He wasn’t stellar, but he was perfect for the role he was given, which was certainly a difficult one.

Is Besler the long-term answer at left back? Absolutely not. One wouldn’t be surprised to see Fabian Johnson moved right back to the position with DeAndre Yedlin back in the fold. However, should Klinsmann opt to shuffle following the series of suspensions, the U.S. could do far worse than Besler at the left back position heading into the semifinal round.


Forwards are defined by goals. At the end of the day, a forward’s job is to put the ball in the back of the net as often as possible. But on Thursday, Bobby Wood showed that a forward can do so much more.

Wood did not score on Thursday night. He didn’t even provide an assist. Truth be told, he only mustered a single shot. However, Wood was a star on Thursday night for doing exactly what it takes from the forward position.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Wood battled and battled to loose ball after loose ball. He rode challenges and made a few of his own. Then, with time dwindling and the game on the line, Wood held onto the ball and effectively killed the game. He was never going to be covered in glory for the efforts he put forth on Thursday, but it’s impossible to not recognize that Wood played his part well in the victory over Ecuador.

For years, the USMNT has looked for a forward that can do it all. Jozy Altidore is the closest they’ve come, a hulking presence that also provides a clinical touch in the box. On Thursday, Wood proved, yet again, that he has the physicality, speed and creativity to thrive at the forward position, one he should and could hold down for years to come.


For all of his faults, Jurgen Klinsmann has proven a man of his word.

Prior to the Copa America, Klinsmann targeted the semifinals as the USMNT’s goal. It would be tough and, at the time, it all seemed a bit unlikely, especially after an opening game defeat to Colombia. Now, weeks later, here they stand, likely preparing to take on one of the giants of world soccer in Argentina, should Lionel Messi and Co. topple Venezuela.

Throughout the past two years, Klinsmann has drawn the ire of many throughout the USMNT world and, many times, rightfully son. His tactics have almost never been perfect, while the team’s performances have been up and down, to say the least, in the years since the World Cup.

Now bound for the semifinals, Klinsmann got it 100 percent right. The USMNT is looking the best they have in years, playing with a defensive grit and attacking fluidity rarely seen in this country. Before the pair of red cards, the U.S. was cruising, much like they had for a majority of the tournament when it was actually 11-on-11.

Klinsmann deserves the credit, much like he deserved the blame for failing at the Gold Cup, a tournament that seems oh so long ago. The USMNT is in a much better place than they were just several months ago, and it can only go up from here now that Klinsmann has reached the first of his targets.


  1. A bit off topic but does anyone else find Fox’s soccer coverage to be unbelievably bad? The director has no clue what he is doing and shows to many replays and shots of the bench that you miss parts of the actual game play. Then add in their in-studio and game commentators range from mediocre to terrible (looking at you Alexi and Fernado). If you watch NBC’s BPL coverage or Espn at the Euros it’s so clear both networks are so much better. Really irks me fox will have the next 3 world cups.

    • It’s bad, cutting away while the ball is in play is ridiculous. I’ve never been a fan of wynalda or Lalas. I really like listening to Ian darke and Stu call games(wish they were calling it), darke has spoiled me I think. I really have a tough time watching la liga games solely because of the announcer, don’t even know his name. He littlerally tries to make a clever metaphor every time he speaks. Donovan was exactly what I expected, very monotone, not good not bad. Didn’t mind Hercules in the booth.

    • That game coverage was as bad as I have ever seen. The constant replays from 12 angles while play continued was absurd. I yelled at the tv many times to get back to live coverage, and when they did the ball was right in front of the goal. That said, I have watched every game of the Copa so far, and they are not usually that bad. It almost seemed like the producers’ 19 year old kid was given control of the replay system and he was having too much fun with his new toys. It better not happen again on Tuesday night!

  2. I am not ready to give Klinsmann credit for reaching the semi-finals. I think his tenure has been more about himself than the USMNT program. For the first time he took himself out of the picture and left the team alone to figure things out together. Reports are that he never trained the team on tactics, on-field relationships. Beisler’s comments about preparation support that narrative. Maybe he has finally realized that he IS the problem and needs to get out of the way, then I will give him credit for that. A great team builder who puts players in their natural positions and allows them to build relationships would be a better fit for the USA than Klinsmann. The “US Style” definitely is “The whole is much more than the sum of its parts.” Klinsmann doesn’t seem to see wholes, just parts.

    • There’s always someone. I would just point out that there have been a number of great coaches in different sports who weren’t very good at tactics or pretty much ignored them altogether. A lot of these coaches win because of how their team trains. Read an article recently in the LA Times where the writer said that Klinsmann seems more like a life coach sometimes than a soccer coach. Interesting since Coach John Wooden at UCLA was exactly like that and he cared little about tactics and was known as a pretty lousy bench coach. There is more than one way to be a winner. There is a theory of management wherein the best manager is one who sets parameters and goals, provides advice and training to his subordinates, and then gives them the freedom to achieve the goals in the way they think best. This is an approach that worked well for me.

      • Hey Gary, we have to give JK credit for the success he has had in this tournament. But he is no John Wooden.

      • a huge difference between wooden and klinsmann would be that wooden could recruit pretty much whoever he wanted. when you have a (very) limited player pool, the right system and tactics become vital.

    • Jonny the inner city could be a gold mine and I am suprised that EPL clubs don’t invest in the inner city. But it is more than just getting into the cities. The suits hired Double Pass, a very reputable agency from Belgium to evaluate the US Developmental Academy. They paid them $2.5 million and the evaluation and recommendations they made are largely non applicable to 90 % of the clubs. That $2.5 million could have gone a long way to hire more Technical Advisors, etc.
      We have a plethora of clueless suits running the show

      • Me too, it’s possible… Venezuela won’t roll over. I expect it will get chippy early. If I had my way cards would have expired after the groups. I’d rather see both teams at full strength.

    • Jonny, rational? You must have me confused with someone else! LOL. I am just very passionate about the game in the US. While I am happy we are having success in Copa, we are so far behind in our vision for player development which is really the most important layer that we must improve upon. There are just too many suits who have a say in what goes on.

      • Well said, it is really disappointing that all the fans can see where the failures are and yet the USSF cannot figure out (or refuses to figure out) how to get the kids who cannot pay to play into the system young enough to make a real difference. Some day brother!

  3. The only knock on JK I can come up with is not subbing out Wood and/or Bedoya. If you have guys carrying a yellow card and you are going to have to defend your ass off for 20 minutes and everyone is tired, someone is going to dive in and take another card. We should of had a double substitution at the 67th minute. Now we are without Wood,Bedoya and Jones. I don’t see how we go through without 3 of our starters.

    • Mark, that’s my only gripe from last night as well. Bedoya was laboring at about the 60+ minute and even Landon was pointing it out and said he needed to come out. Like you said, and i agree, when guys legs get tired they do reckless and bone headed things and that’s exactly what happened to Bedoya and Wood. Why he didn’t sub earlier makes you think he doesn’t totally trust the bench to close a game out thus the little we’ve seen of Nagbe and Pulisic. Jurgens hands are tied now and he will have to rely on squad depth. I think the bench can step up and do a job but you also get the feeling that their limited game time will show it’s face early in the game when you need composure and attention to detail.

    • Yes but Jonny on every team once the game starts, the players coach themselves, no matter what level. On some teams the level where the players coach themselves is higher than others. On this team, that level is very high. The players would not listen to Cameron. He may be a good captain in grooming but not ready for the armband. When the crap hits the fan and bewilderment of our coach surfaces you need a smart, voice of reason in the locker room and MB has done this as well as any US captain.
      This is good soccer conversation and I enjoy it.

      • I guess I see Cam as the closest thing we have to Boca, who I thought was the perfect captain: calm, cool, but fiery and a fighter. Maybe you are right and Jr. is the right guy for now, I just wish his temper could stay in check, especially when you have Jones and Deuce on the pitch at the same time. Maybe I have watched him since he was a kid so I interpret his attitude as petulance?

        It is good to know that it is still possible to have a rational conversation on the internet between guys with opposing pov’s.

  4. I am not so certain than Argentina beats Venezuela. Venezuela is underrated and often overlooked. It would mean a lot to a starving people for Venezuela to defeat Argentina.

    • Actually a response to Jonny. You are correct when you say MB needs to be less emotional on the field. That competitive spirit, I guess, is what makes him a valuable player as well. He is the most competitive kid I have ever been around. Doesn’t matter what the game is. I’ve seen him pissed off if another player got the puzzle on Wheel of Fortune faster than him.

      Ultimately, the coach needs to get the circus like atmosphere on the sideline under control. Players on this team are getting away with too much childish behavior on the field.

      • Yep, valuable player who works like crazy for the team, just not the man for the armband. I would choose Cameron at this point, he has the right mentality for the job.

  5. Great game, wonderfully fun to watch if not a bit stressful at the end.

    I would like to address the composure issue. There is a difference between fighting for the ball, feeling you are not being respected, and losing your cool and costing the team. Jones was wrong to even step in there, and he has to know better, but in the last two games, where has the captain been when it comes to calming the troops down and keeping the focus. In the Paraguay game, Bradley lost his head, and led to others losing theirs. A captain has to be more focused than that.

    Bradley is a great player, and he is our metronome, but I am not sure he has the right mental makeup to be a captain. He loses his cool too often, and, at least on the field, never seems to be bringing his teammates together. Someone needed to calm Bobby Wood down two games in a row, and instead of doing that, he got two yellow cards and won’t play on Tuesday. Not sure who is a better pick for captain, but I am not sure Bradley plays his best with the armband on?

    • Jonny, make no mistake who the leader on this team is. Watch the huddle right before kickoff. Watch who is giving out orders. One person talks. MB leads the locker room and has talked a lot of players off the ledge in the past few years. Yes, MB has bad plays and bad games. But you’ll rarely see him not show up ready for a game or training session and his teammates feed off of that. He has made more repairs in that locker room over the past couple of years than your neighborhood repairman. This team would be in a state of chaos without his steady presence on and off the field.

      • You seem to know a lot more about what goes on behind closed doors and at practices than I do, I watch what happens during the 90 minutes of play I am shown on television, and that is what I am talking about. You can be a team leader without being the on-field captain of the team. I am not questioning his heart or his loyalty to the team or country, but I think he gets a little too hot headed himself and loses it on the field. I want my captain to be in control of himself and on the lookout for teammates who may not be.

        Maybe I am expecting too much from him, but if he is a team leader as we both think he is, he should not lose his cool in such important moments, especially when the team feeds off of his emotions. Wanting more out of someone is not questioning who they are, it is trying to push them to be better.

    • It was, off a corner, or a free kick close the lower right corner on the tv screen. it was a good play and a great shot created because the field was more open due to each team being down a man.

    • not about bobby, but Dempsey was a forward last night, wasn’t he? Scored one and assisted on the other. if we were watching the NHL wouldn’t bobby have received a second assist on the second goal?

      • yep, just a shot at the anti-jozy crowd who claim that a forward is required to score goals to have a good game: bobby’s only got 1 goal in 4 games, so obviously he’s not good enough, or something.

        i think he’s certainly done well enough to add some competition to our (admittedly underwhelming) pool of forwards.

  6. there were a couple times where i was yelling at bedoya (should’ve passed to bobby, gave up the free kick that led to a goal and got himself suspended), but looking back, he was one of the most important players on the field. his nonstop running was the reason that besler was able to offer absolutely nothing in attack and just concentrate on defending.

    dempsey was great, brooks was a beast, cameron and fabian locked down the right side, and guzan is looking more comfortable back there.

  7. Nagle or becks can cover for jones. Slide zeroes up top for wood because of same pace and work rate then put in pulisic later in game for fresh legs later in game for Dempsey

  8. Feels like the Bedoya sub could’ve been made in time to avoid the suspension, at least according to a few of the people at my table at the bar.
    Saying that, the Jones and Wood suspensions are WAY more devastating to next game’s lineup.

  9. Great win and great to see Klinsmann’s target was reached. Unfortunately the suspensions lower my belief that we can get to the final. It is definitely possible but it will likely be a Belgium in the World Cup type of game where the U.S. is under siege but tries to steal it. The Wood suspension is the most painful but Jones is up there too. Such a dumb play by Jones but oh well, stuff happens in the heat of the moment. Bedoya can easily be replaced by Zusi or Nagbe.

    My dream big and go for it lineup:


    You can line em up in 433 or 442 not much of a difference.

    • Of course my above post assumes Argentina beats Venezuela.

      In my lineup I would also be ok with F Johnson being moved up to where Pulisic is and Castillo or Besler playing left-back.

      Anybody want to take bets on a possible super-shocker and Perry Kitchen starting instead of Beckerman and having Bradley and Nagbe in front of Kitchen??? I need good odds though.

    • I actually like this for the starting XI. But I’m not sure JK would actually do it. I worry that JK will run it as a 4-4-2 putting Beckerman in the #6 role moving Bradley out to the right and sticking Wondo up top with Zardes instead of Pulisic. Could also see him inserting Zusi over Nagbe.


      Would much prefer your starting XI to this, but I think this is what JK will roll out.

      • I don’t disagree with either one of you but you also need something to come off the bench if you need to change the game. I like UCLA’s lineup but it isn’t logical unless we can have no subs. The bench gets thin losing 3 players to suspension.

    • I like your preferred lineup as well. Another possibility is Fabian moved up into the midfield, Besler stays at LB, Zardes moves up top in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, with Zusi on the right, Fabian on the left, Bradley holding, and Nagbe further forward.

    • We can’t run that formation. Beckerman is going to play at least 45 minutes with the role of kicking Messi and not leaving his side… even if it means being waay out of position on the other side of the field… but I agree in substituting Pulisic for Wood… god, if we trot wondo out it will be a sad, sad, game. Pulisic with Fabian behind him on the left… Zardes tucked in more… Zusi on the right… Yedlin is back… We have a shot against Argentina… still going to be tough, but we at least have a shot.

  10. Having the right players makes a big difference. The development of both Brooks on defense and Wood on offense are largely responsible for the US;’s improvement. With Brooks and Cameron at CB we have close to a lock down defense and this allows the outside backs to go forward more. And Wood keeps the defense of the opponent honest so that they have to be careful about going too far forward. Wood and Zardes together provide the speed which the US has been lacking for a while and they certainly ran Ecuador ragged. Before I was a little worried about US progress in qualifying in the Hex, but now I think we should have no problem with the players we have.

    • Wood has been putting in Davies esq performances the last few games. Running his butt off on both sides of the ball and providing the over the top threat that allows Dempsey to really thrive in that space in front of the defense.
      Defensively the team has been phenomenal. Still 0 goals allowed from open play. Great work from all 10 outfield players to recognize danger and cover for their teammates. Awesome team defending with Brooks the obvious star of the show and Guzan coming up big when the chances have come.
      This article talks more about the attacking play we have shown when 11v11 but the solid defensive foundation has been the catalyst for the team in my opinion.

      • “This article talks more about the attacking play we have shown when 11v11 but the solid defensive foundation has been the catalyst for the team in my opinion.”


      • 1) Bobby The Bull Wood is a fantastic player. It’s going to be hard to keep him off of the field. I was at the Paraguay game right above where he played. I had a great view of how big of a problem he was for their central defense. When he gets turned and starts taking space with the ball, he probes the defense aggressively and fearlessly and makes them work as hard as he does to stop him. He was playing that half 1-v-2 and had them scrambled on several occasions, even setting up Zardes with a sitter while down a man. This is one of the guys that Klinsmann has had a big role in mentoring through the development process.

        2) This is the best USMNT I have seen in my 35 years of watching. We are a threat everywhere, against everyone. There are fantastic players across the field and on the bench. There is a great mix of veteran stud professionals (Dempsey, Jones, Bradley, Guzan), players in their primes (Cameron, Johnson, Yedlin, Nagbe, Bedoya, Zusi, Besler), and rising stars (Brooks, Zardes, Wood, Pulisic). The team is equal parts attack and defend. The coach has developed a sense of belief in our own abilities and we are now beginning to force great teams like Ecuador and Colombia to adjust to us rather than bunkering and counterattacking. This day has come sooner than I thought. We can win the tournament.

        3) Klinsmann has delivered. There is reason to be extremely excited about the next World Cup. When JK came aboard, the debates in the soccer community centered around whether or not it would be appropriate to allow performance to slip to take lumps as the team allowed itself to gain proficient skill and technique and confidence in those things. We can now see that this is exactly what has happened. The USMNT now considers itself an equal, not an underdog. Klinsmann is responsible for that. It’s time to give the haters the finger. Does anyone feel pure pessimism about their chances against Argentina? We believe because they do. They believe not in their ability to perform a miracle, but in their ability to go toe to toe and win…just as they beat Germany, Holland, Italy, Ghana, etc. JK is having a massive effect on the program, and he is taking it to the next level.

      • @j. thomas

        “Klinsmann has delivered.”

        wow, you’ve forgotten about the gold cup quickly.

        i think the team’s played pretty well this tournament, and this past game was our best so far, but it’s just a couple games — kind of short-sighted to say “*now* we’re here”. remember, we’ve gotten to the final of an international tournament before — and i’d rank this copa america edition at about the same importance as the confederations cup.

        you do make a good point about us taking the game to other teams recently. it’s nice to see, and hopefully we can keep it up.

      • I think it’s becoming obvious that Klinsmann has delivered on proactive soccer. Now our ceiling is higher. We no longer depend on a string of miracles to carry us through. We can dictate terms to some extent, even against the likes of Ecuador and Colombia.

        Huge success for Klinsmann. Part of that success was identifying young players for real roles to develop within the team. Brooks, Yedlin, Wood, Morris, Pulisic, Zardes, etc. On Univision yesterday, Brooks credited JK for mentoring him and other players and helping them to grow. In retrospect it is obvious to see. There are others coming up that JK has growing too: Kitchen, Hyndman, Miazga, Finlay, Kieswewetter, etc.

        This is a promising program right now with a World Cup two years away. Everything is building in the right way.

      • @j. thomas

        yeah, i conceded that we’re playing more proactively in recent games than we did before — i’d also note that playing proactively with the players we had during bradley’s regime would’ve been a disaster — so he’s definitely following through on that one at the moment.

        i’d just probably cool it on the idea that klinsmann’s presence has somehow revolutionized our player pool at this point. brooks was always playing for the u.s., the ussf would’ve had to be blind not to see pulisic, yedlin was a hot property as soon as he hit mls, wood is promising but hasn’t actually done that much yet, and the rest of the players you listed get an “incomplete” at the moment.

        and saying that klinsmann is responsible for all these players’ growth is like saying that he’s responsible for the declines of cherundolo, bocanegra, howard, beasley, and donovan: it was going to happen anyway.

        “This is a promising program right now with a World Cup two years away. Everything is building in the right way.”

        like i said, it seems that you’ve forgotten all about last year’s gold cup.

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