Advertisement
Sports

U.S. isn’t intimidated by Messi, Argentina

U.S. isn’t intimidated by Messi, Argentina
Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain (9) celebrates his goal with Lionel Messi, center, and Ever Banega in the first half of a Copa America Centenario match against Venezuela.
(Jim Rogash / Getty Images)

Juergen Klinsmann knows whom his U.S. national team will be playing against Tuesday in its Copa America Centenario semifinal. And late Sunday he found whom he’ll be playing with as well.

Argentina looms as the next hurdle for the U.S., an obstacle that will be more difficult to clear now that the team is without midfielder Jermaine Jones and forward Bobby Wood. Both players had their appeals of suspensions earned in last Thursday’s quarterfinal denied Sunday.

That’s not exactly the best way to go into a knockout-round game against the world’s top-ranked team, one that has shredded the competition in this tournament. But Klinsmann remains confident.

Advertisement

“We think we have a very, very good idea and a plan how to approach this match,” he told reporters before Sunday’s late-morning training session in steamy Houston.

“We are not scared of them at all.”

Argentina has outscored opponents 14-2 in four games, all wins, while Lionel Messi, the five-time world player of the year, has started just once yet is second in the Centenario in scoring with four goals.

The U.S. knows all those stats, of course. But though captain Michael Bradley acknowledges that Messi may be the best player of all time, he also said, “We don’t want to make this out to be a mission impossible.”

Advertisement

Maybe he should, because the underdog role has suited the U.S. well in this tournament. When the groups were drawn in February, for example, the U.S. was given little chance of advancing out of a foursome that included World Cup quarterfinalists Colombia and Costa Rica.

The U.S. won the group.

In the quarterfinals the U.S. was matched against Ecuador, the No. 13 team in the world, which sits atop the table in South America’s World Cup qualifying tournament.

The U.S. won that game.

Now come Argentina and Messi, another seemingly insurmountable challenge.

“With all the people that doubted us and all the people that didn’t think we could make it this far, [Klinsmann] brought the group together, kind of blocked the negativity and he stayed positive,” defender Geoff Cameron said. “And that’s the most important thing in the locker room and within a team — the belief, the strength in numbers. Hopefully we have another gear in us.

“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

However, they’ll do it without three key players in Jones, Wood and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. Jones was given a straight red card early in the second half of Thursday’s quarterfinal win over Ecuador, and Wood and Bedoya picked up their second yellow cards of the tournament in the same game.

Advertisement

The U.S. did not contest Bedoya’s suspension. And the appeals panel dismissed a Hail Mary attempt to get the other two dismissed, leaving Klinsmann to replace nearly a quarter of his regular lineup.

“The fact that we have three players suspended for the semifinal, it’s sad for those three players,” he said. “But I’m not worried because whoever steps in will get the job done.”

Kyle Beckerman will almost certainly replace Jones, with Bradley moving from a holding position into an attacking role. Veteran Graham Zusi is the leading candidate to take Bedoya’s place.

Replacing Wood, who has had a breakout tournament creating chances for Clint Dempsey (three goals, three assists), will be more complex. Klinsmann could move the Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes into Wood’s spot, but that would require him to find another winger. He could also start Chris Wondolowski, providing a different look altogether. Or he could mix and match from a group that includes teenager Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe.

But regardless of who starts against Argentina, Klinsmann says the message will be the same.

“Believe you can do it,” he said. “Every team is beatable. Anything is possible.

“We’re ready for them.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Advertisement


Advertisement