The United States Men’s National Team somehow managed to emerge from a difficult Group A in Copa America as winners. They didn’t do it all by themselves, and they didn’t do it with style, but they did it. This turn of events has nicely set them up for possible semi-final berth if they can manage to get by Ecuador. The match will take place in Seattle, which should give the hosts about as much of a home field advantage as they’ve enjoyed so far during the tournament. Seattle has been a very profitable place for the US, as they’ve won each of the five matches they’ve played there. You can expect a full house and a ton of atmosphere when they square up for a quarterfinal match-up on Thursday night.
The Tournament So Far
Ecuador have also been flying a bit higher than people expected in this Centenario. Los Amarillos managed to hold Brazil scoreless in their opening match, they shared points with the eventual group winners Peru, and they hung four goals on a hapless Haiti side that bore a lot of responsibility for the numbers in Group B’s “Goals For” column. The Ecuadorians made it out of the group at the expense of Brazil, but they’ve looked less than convincing in the process.
Two draws and one win gave the Ecuadorians 5 points, and they’ve scored six times while only allowing 2. They’ve done a decent job of keeping the ball, enjoying just over half the possession over the course of their three matches, and they’ve also done a lot in the way of shooting with their totals of 38 shots taken and 16 on target each being the fourth highest in the tournament.
Thus far, Gustavo Quintero’s men have been relying heavily on their Premier League contingent of players. Enner Valencia has led the way so far with 2 goals and 2 assists. Antonio Valencia has added a goal and an assist, and Jefferson Montero has provided 2 assists of his own. Enner is the danger man however, and his pace could cause the US backline some problems while they are currently without their speediest defender in DeAndre Yedlin.
Defensively, the South American side has posted shutouts against Brazil and Haiti, and have seen standout performances from Arturo Mina, a tall but agile centerback and LDU Quito goalkeeper, Alexander Dominguez. They also aren’t afraid to play a bit physical, committing 45 fouls over the course of the tournament and picking up five cautions and a red card. Though, to be fair, the USA have been slightly more prolific at collecting cards with nine yellows and a red of their own.
The United States and Ecuador haven’t met in many competitive matches in the modern era. Though coincidentally, they did just recently play a friendly in preparation for the tournament. The USA won that match 1-0 in front of 9,000 people in Frisco, Texas. Darlington Nagbe scored his first international goal in what looked to be the start of a new era in which he would play a significant role going forward for his country. That hasn’t exactly been the case just yet however, as he’s only come off of the bench once so far during this tournament, unable to do much given a lack of time against a superior Colombian side.
The two teams have met eight times since 1990, with this being only the second competitive match. The last time they met in tournament play was in the 1993 Copa America when Ecuador defeated a still young and inexperienced US side 2-0. Since then, they have met in seven friendlies, where the USA have won 3, drawn 2, and lost 2.
Can We Win?
This is a very winnable match for the Yanks. Ecuador aren’t a very complicated team; they’ll use the pace of their attacking players to try and force the American defenders into making sloppy mistakes and on offense they’ll try to get the ball forward quickly to Enner Valencia by using their very direct wingers. Having Yedlin’s speed would be ideal here, but their task is going to be a bit more difficult with Orozco likely being tasked with replacing the Tottenham man. There isn’t going to be a lot of room for error here as Ecuador can bunker well if they score and the United States often have trouble prying open a defense if they start to feel desperate. A draw doesn’t do the US any favors here as we go straight to penalties after 90 minutes. Another crucial factor in this match will be discipline from both sides as reckless challenges that lead to suspensions will cause catastrophic problems for a team whose reward for winning is a likely date with Argentina in the semi-final.
Despite these issues, the United States really should be winning this one. The hosts are going to be coming off the high of surpassing expectations by winning the group, they’ll have an extremely energetic crowd backing them up, and a lot of confidence from scoring five unanswered goals in their last two matches. Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey haven’t looked anything like the players that were approaching the end of their shelf life, and Bobby Wood seems to have found his feet on offense. If Klinsmann’s starting eleven isn’t able to break through, there are always more youthful options on the bench like Nagbe and Pulisic who can develop a different tempo and point of attack late in the match if necessary. Ideally the USA will score early and keep the pressure on. The goal of appearing in a Copa America semifinal has never been closer for the Americans. A win on Thursday would appease a lot of the team’s critics, but it shouldn’t be the only goal. The United States need to play smart as yellow card accumulation doesn’t reset until the next round. A 1-0 victory will certainly do the job, but a comprehensive win will do wonders for building confidence before a likely date with the tournament’s favorites in Houston.