Heading into Tuesday’s Copa America semifinal, the U.S. Men’s National Team readily admits they are the underdogs. Facing off with arguably the best player and best team in the world, the U.S. is fully aware that the odds are stacked against them in a one-off setting against elite opposition.
Following a quarterfinal win against Ecuador, the USMNT has earned a matchup with Argentina. Currently ranked first in the latest FIFA ranking, Argentina poses a threat unseen by the USMNT throughout what has been an overwhelmingly positive tournament run.
However, for all of the difficulties that lie ahead, the U.S. remains confident. They sit just one step away from a tournament final, after all. On paper, the odds are all but stacked against them, but on the field, the USMNT believes they have what it takes to bring the fight to Argentina.
“You want to measure yourself and go out and give them a real fight,” said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. ” I think the team has done tremendously well over the past couple of weeks and got rewarded with getting into the semifinal, but this is now a moment that is not happening so often in your careers. All I well say is to go at them, be courageous. Believe you can do it, absolutely. Every team is beatable in the world, and if you understand the moment right now then, good, go for it.
“There’s been plenty of examples over the last few years of teams that, on a given day, are so committed, mentally, physically, to do whatever it takes to make the game hard on another team that may, on paper, have more going forward than they do and, in the end, are able to make it a difficult day and come out on top,” added Michael Bradley. “That’s what we’ll do. We’ll have a group of guys on the field who are so committed to making the game hard on Argentina, not giving them too much respect and really trying to play the game in a big way.”
When assessing Argentina, it begins, obviously, with Lionel Messi. Widely recognized as, at worst, one of the top two players in the world, Messi has lived up to his billing at the Copa America. After scoring a hat-trick off the bench in the group stage, Messi shined with a goal and pair of assists in Argentina’s 4-1 trampling of Venezuela as form continued into the knockout rounds.
The key to stopping Argentina likely lies with Messi, although it is widely accepted that is near impossible to completely quiet the Barcelona star. With a supporting cast of Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Nicholas Gaitan and Erik Lamela all being shuffled in and out of the lineup, focusing too much on Messi could prove just as suicidal as treating him like any other player.
“I don’t know if you can stop Messi. Obviously there’s going to a belt of attention around him. There always is,” said Matt Besler, who would matchup with the Argentinian star should he earn another start at left back. “It’s a group effort when you’re playing a guy like him. It’s not just one guy. You always need to know where he is on the field, but we have to play our game. You can’t focus too much on the opponent. You have to go out and do the things that you do well as a team.
“They’re certainly one of the best teams in the world, if not the best team. They’re certainly playing very well, so it’s going to be a major challenge for us, but I think we can still be confident. At this point in the tournament, anything can happen. Our mentality is that we have to go out and try and win the game and get into the final.”
The path to the final couldn’t be more difficult, but Bradley insists that the U.S. isn’t content with the progress made thus far. Should the U.S. fall to Argentina, Bradley insists that there is no extra pride in their status as CONCACAF’s final team standing.
Now with a final within grasp, and at least two more games to play, the U.S. wants to end on a high. That process continues with a matchup against the tournament favorites in what has the potential to be one of the biggest achievements in UMSNT history.
“In a competition, in a tournament, there are completely separate rules than in World Cup qualifiers or a regular game or maybe a friendly,” Klinsmann said. “These games are unique. Every game, you have to approach like a final. If you do that and show the same energy, if the crowd is behind us, anything is possible. Yes, we have respect for a wonderful Argentinian side. We welcome their fans, but we’re also ready for them.”