By Joe Quinn - @JoeESPN590
There’s no sense in beating around the bush. The United States' 4-0 loss to Argentina Tuesday night was brutal to watch, and a downright awful result for a team that has shown so much promise this tournament.
While there’s certainly no shame in losing to Argentina, the #1 ranked team in the FIFA world rankings, what happened Tuesday night to the USMNT was something else entirely. The U.S. failed to compete, and made it far too easy for Argentina to pick them apart from the first kick until the final whistle.
Now, it’s nowhere near the embarrassment of Mexico’s 7-0 defeat at the hands of Chile in the quarterfinals, but its still a step back for the U.S.
Here’s a few thoughts on what went wrong on Tuesday night.
The match was essentially over in the fourth minute, when the U.S. lost track of Lionel Messi and allowed him an uncontested chip to Ezequiel Lavezzi that went for the first Argentina goal.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly who was to blame - GK Brad Guzan froze, and Kyle Beckerman appeared to loose Lavezzi in the shuffle, but the entire squad is at fault for allowing a player of Messi’s caliber to go unchecked at the top of the box.
It was a small breakdown that set the tone for the entire match.
Lack of possession
The final possession numbers gave Argentina a 63/37 edge, but it sure felt a lot wider than that. Especially in the first half, it seemed the U.S. gave Argentina too much respect when they were on the ball, and were unable to come up with any takeaways.
Even more frustrating, the U.S. didn’t really start to challenge Argentina’s possession until after halftime.
When you don’t have the ball, and all you are doing is defending, it’s tough to win. It can be debated for days how the U.S. should have gone about things differently from a tactical perceptive, but the end result is the same: no possession means no shots, which means no goals.
There’s no way to dance around the fact that the suspensions of Bobby Wood, Jermaine Jones, and Alejandro Bedoya played heavily into Tuesday’s showing.
Would the U.S. have won if that trifecta was on the field? Probably not, but the manner in which the team lost could have been significantly different.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to start veteran Chris Wondolowski up top could not have gone any worse (his turnover and subsequent foul led to Leo Messi’s highlight reel free kick goal), and Kyle Beckerman’s night in the midfield wasn’t great in Jones’ stead.
In fairness, Graham Zusi, starting in place of Bedoya on the wing, didn’t have an awful showing. There probably wasn’t a huge drop-off from what Bedoya would have provided, and at least Zusi played hard for the full 90 minutes.
Ultimately, the United States doesn’t have the personnel to match what Argentina put on the field, but three key absences weighed larger than what almost anyone could have imagined.
Lack of physicality
There are varying opinions, but the U.S. could have been much more aggressive and tried to force Argentina into mistakes. Nobody wants to see a foul fest, but this was by far the least physical match the U.S. has played this tournament.
Landon Donovan made a fair point on the Fox broadcast last night - in this matchup, yellow cards meant nothing. The cumulative totals reset after the quarterfinal round, so a suspension for the final wouldn’t happen unless a player gets two cards in the same match.
As Donovan pointed out, if it took 12 yellow cards to set the tone of the match for the United States, so be it. Nobody is suggesting the U.S. intentionally try to injure anyone, but this was a match that played into the technical skill and finesse that Argentina possess, and the U.S. does not.
One more to go
U.S. captain Michael Bradley said after the match he doesn’t really see the point in third place games. While its easy to understand his point of view, there’s still plenty to be gained by the U.S.A. in the consolation game on Saturday in Phoenix.
Jurgen Klinsmann should give thought to starting some of his younger players, and get them experience in meaningful tournament action. A victory would also secure the highest finish for the U.S. in a Copa America tournament.
Despite Tuesday night’s poor showing, the fact the United States won their group and advanced to semifinal round (and had the chance to play six matches) is a resounding success. They’ll have one final chance to gain as much as they can on Saturday.