Yanks Say They’re Ready for Copa Group Stage Finale
The U.S. men’s national team is fully aware that a loss against Paraguay Saturday night would be catastrophic for the program. Brian Sciaretta is in Philadelphia and has more on the match.
June 10, 2016
PHILADELPHIA—The last time the United States men’s national team played in the City of Brotherly Love, it was a low point for Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as head coach. On that day, July 25 of last year, the U.S. lost in a shootout to Panama and stumbled to an embarrassing fourth place finish at the Gold Cup.
On Saturday night, the U.S. will have a shot at redemption as the Yanks take on Paraguay (7pm ET; FS1, UniMas, UDN) to round out Group A play in Copa America Centenario.
The line separating success and failure is thin, and the result against Paraguay here at Lincoln Financial Field will determine whether the Americans can hold their heads or bow them down in shame. A win will put the U.S. into the quarterfinals—a draw would likely do the same—but a loss will ensure yet another disappointment on home soil
The good news for the Americans is that following their 4-0 rout of Costa Rica, it will be riding a wave of momentum into this decisive contest.
“After two games we have three points and that is a very positive thing,” Klinsmann said Friday. “But now the work has to be done against a very good Paraguay team. But we are ready, we are hungry... they know they have to grind it out and give it everything on Saturday night to make it happen.”
Early Minutes Will Be Crucial
In the United States’ first two games of the tournament, the opening minutes have dictated the advantage, and ultimately the result. Against Colombia, a blown coverage on a corner kick put the U.S. in an early deficit from which it would never recover. Against Costa Rica, it was the Ticos who came out strong but a penalty call in the favor of the home team completely changed the context of the game. From there, the U.S. dominated.
Paraguay needs to win in order to advance but the United States will almost certainly move on with a draw. As is often the case, the team that scores first will set the tone for the match. If Paraguay jumps out to take the lead, the U.S. could fall victim to jitters as it faces its second consecutive early exit in a tournament in the United States. If the home team scores first, the visitors will need to play with desperation.
“Teams of that caliber, when they score first, they know exactly how to defend,” Klinsmann said. “They know how to kind of kill you off with a counter break. If you get in that situation, it's very difficult—which we experienced with Colombia. To break them down [trailing] 2-0, it's a huge mountain in front of you.”
This is not lost on the U.S. players.
“We just have to make sure we close the door early,” Geoff Cameron said. “If we get that goal, we'll be fine.”
For Paraguay, the tournament began in lackluster fashion with an uninspired scoreless draw with Costa Rica. In its second game against Colombia, Paraguay fell behind by two goals but rebounded with an impressive display of soccer before losing 2-1. Paraguay’s uneven performances date back to the 2015 Copa America, when it defeated Brazil in the quarterfinals and then got trounced by Argentina in the semifinals, 6-1.
Which Paraguay team will show up? The feeling around U.S. camp is that Paraguay will bring its best to Philadelphia.
“It's going to be a difficult match,” Cameron said. “They're a good team and we watched their game. They're a tough team. They didn't take it easy against Colombia and they always had some opportunities. It's going to be a difficult game and we know that. They're going to come out and try to frustrate us and leave it all on the field—just like we will.”
Klinsmann has been studying Paraguay and is familiar with the squad and echoes Cameron’s view that this game will be extremely challenging.
“Obviously there is a lot of respect for Paraguay,” Klinsmann said. “In the last Copa America they finished in the final four. In the one before that, they finished in second. That shows you where Paraguay is.
“If you watch that game against Colombia, there was no difference. They're a very well organized team with very good individual players. They have a fantastic coach that played on the same club as me in Inter Milan many moons ago. It's going to be a huge game for both sides.”
A True Benchmark
With a win and a loss after the two matches, the Americans are pretty much where most folks thought they would be. Colombia is a truly world-class opponent and would be favored to beat the Americans under any circumstances. The U.S should win at home against Costa Rica, despite the Central American side’s success in recent years.
The game against Paraguay was always likely to be the determining game and Klinsmann seemed to emphasize that this is a true benchmark for the team. He also emphasized that he has been preparing his players for these type of big games by scheduling friendlies over the last several years against the world’s best teams.
“It's just a very clear situation,” Klinsmann said. “A point would take you into the quarters but you cannot speculate on that. We don't have the character to sit back—we have to be really involved in the game. We have to set the tone and we have to keep a very high level of aggressiveness and determination from the first second. This is a very, very good opponent.”
“I love this type of situation,” he added. “This is already a type of knockout game. You want your players to go through that. Go in there with a big chest and take the game to Paraguay. Respect them for their strengths they have but also show them we are able to play these game.
“You want those benchmarks.”
Backline Continues to Grow
Coming into this tournament, it was unclear who the starting central defenders were going to be and if DeAndre Yedlin was ready to claim the right back position as his own.
Heading into the group finale, there is a sense that the backline is settled. Yedlin is the right back and, most importantly, Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are the pair in central defense.
“It’s always key when you get a number of reps and an amount of time with each other,” Cameron said. “The guys are getting used to one another. We've had the same back four. Even in training we're always training with other guys. We're comfortable and confident with one another.
“We all believe in each other and our ability. On the field, the guys are communicating and organizing. If we play like we did [against Costa Rica] we'll be fantastic.”
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan agrees that the backline is coalescing, and he notices that familiarity is helping the quartet feel confident.
“It's always nice when you play with the same faces,” Guzan said. “When you see the same faces, playing with them you become a little more comfortable each and every time. The chances that other teams have had from the run of play haven't been clear-cut chances. I think that's down to our work rate and our desire to be a difficult team to beat."
Stamina of the Veterans
Klinsmann elected to keep the same starting lineup in the first two games of the group stage. While it paid off against Costa Rica, the Paraguay game will be the second straight match on three days of rest.
For a few of the older players on the U.S. squad, that might take its toll. Klinsmann said that there are no injuries and that everyone is ready to go.
“I think it's pretty good,” Clint Dempsey said when asked about the physical state of the team. “We do a good job of [regeneration] to make sure we are right for each game. Doing ice baths and looking at everything to give ourselves the best-possible chance to put in a good effort and be ready.”