In the group stage of the Copa America Centenario, Juergen Klinsmann did something no U.S. national team coach had done in 86 years by starting the same lineup in three consecutive games.
On Tuesday, in the tournament semifinals, he might achieve another first by replacing three suspended starters, all of whom are ineligible after earning one-game bans in the second half of the quarterfinal win Thursday over Ecuador.
Forward Bobby Wood and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya both picked up a second yellow card while midfielder Jermaine Jones earned a straight red and a one-game suspension. The U.S. announced Friday it is appealing the suspensions of Wood and Jones, with the latter case likely to hinge on the interpretation of rule 12 of international soccer’s Laws of the Game.
The rule states that “attempted violent conduct is a red card, even if there is no contact.” But it also says striking on the head or face is not a red card if the contact is “minimal or negligible.”
But the replays do appear to show Jones “attempted violent conduct,” which is a red card.
Klinsmann has already reached his conclusion.
“An absolute joke,” he said. “It’s a disgrace, a decision like that.”
A U.S. Soccer spokesman said it was unclear when the appeal would be ruled upon, but if it is denied, Klinsmann will be forced to replace more than a quarter of his starters. That will necessarily force him to change his strategy for Tuesday’s semifinal in Houston, where the U.S. will meet the winner of Saturday’s Argentina-Venezuela game
“It’s not easy,” said Klinsmann, who had to replace a suspended DeAndre Yedlin for the Ecuador match.
Replacing Wood, 23, could be the biggest challenge because the speedy forward has had a breakout tournament. By challenging defenders and forcing them out of position. he has helped open up space for Clint Dempsey, who has three goals and three assists in four games.
Although it’s unlikely even Klinsmann knows what he’s going to do at this point, one possibility is to use the Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes in Wood’s spot, counting on his speed to continue creating chances for Dempsey. But with Bedoya out, pushing Zardes up top would force Klinsmann to replace both wingers.
Given the magnitude of the game, one of those spots probably would go to veteran Graham Zusi and the other to Yedlin, who is eligible again. Darlington Nagbe and teenager Christian Pulisic are also options, depending on how Klinsmann decides to line up.
Jones, who has provided a physical presence in the midfield and also set up the first goal Thursday, probably will be replaced by Kyle Beckerman, who will take a more defensive role, allowing U.S. captain Michael Bradley to get more involved in the attack.
That’s a lot of change in a short period, especially for a team that with its three Copa wins allowed Klinsmann to accomplish something no U.S. coach has done: win three consecutive games in a major international competition.
“Our program is maturing, our players are maturing,” he said. “They are learning with every game they can play in this type of an environment.
“We made a huge step forward [Thursday]. The team performance was just outstanding.”