The USMNT reaching the semifinals in the Copa America Centenario was a great stepping stone USA soccer. When the game was announced that it would be against the #1 team in the world, Argentina, many agreed that this would be the biggest game in United States soccer history.
Too bad the USMNT didn’t get that memo.
Lionel Messi led Argentina to a 4-0 victory over the home team, in a very convincing fashion. Lionel Messi finished with 3 points (1 goal, 2 assist), helping with the first goal on the board when he dropped a dime off to Ezequiel Lavezzi, who slipped past the USMNT back line unnoticed. Messi was also sitting by himself when he kick the ball over everyone heads to a wide open Lavezzi. That was in the third minute of the game.
“They’ll always be a step backwards and then we’ll go two more forward, that’s apart of our process,” Jurgen Klinsmann said after the game. “I told the guys heads up and just swallow it. It’s a special team[Argentina].”
While you can say the USMNT made it easier for Argentina with their sloppy play, Argentina was still the better team from start to finish. Alexi Lalas doesn’t think this game represent where they are against the world, but we said that after the opening game against Columbia. The USMNT didn’t come with their best soccer tonight and to play like that in a situation like this - a game that could elevate United States Soccer - and they didn’t answer the challenge.
In the USMNT defense they were a few players. Jermaine Jones was not available after receiving a red card against Ecuador, and Bobby Wood was also out due to a yellow card. Even with those two, I don’t think it would have stopped the battery ram that was Argentina.
The early goals is what baffled the USMNT. Klinsmann acknowledge Argentina’s offensive presence, knowing that they’re too good to let a lead go and that’s what happened. Argentina never let up and continued to put the pressure on the defense. The USMNT had a number of plays where gave away possessions and opportunity. On the third goal, Gonzalo Higuaín (50') beat John Brooks to the ball but Brooks did not hustle back to distract Higuain, leaving Guzan on an island. The last goal of the day came off another dime from Messi, finding Higuaín right in front of the goal (86’). It was a rough day for Guzan.
In the 22’, Messi scored on a free kick from 30-yards out, a kick that will be talked about for years to come. While the first goal could have been prevented and falls solely on the defense of the USMNT, Messi’s 30-yard strike was one of those plays that you have to live with. Goalie, Brad Guzan took a bad step but even if he didn’t, he would have needed to make the best save of his life to prevent Messi’s goal.
Guzan has been starting the entire Copa America tournament, playing top level, but this game reminds me of the match against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. Tim Howard was put into a lot of tough situations but ended up with a World Cup record, 15 saves. If Guzan could have had a similar performance, this game could have been a lot closer. I may have used Tim Howard for this game since he has been in these type of games before, and answered the challenge.
The USMNT haven’t faced this type of team since the 2014 World Cup. Lionel Messi is the best player they’ve faced ever, let alone in the last 2 years. Messi was a highlight reel of his own today. He wasn’t pressured much by the USMNT, but he still made the plays that only the #1 player in the world would make. This is an important tournament for Messi, looking to win his first big international tournament, and the first for Argentina in the last 23 years. Messi has won tournaments with the junior national but never with the senior team. He is already considered as one of the best players ever but he still needs that big tournament on his resume, similar to LeBron needing to win a title for Cleveland.
Argentina will await the winner of Chile and Columbia. Both teams will pose a much tougher challenge than the USMNT but Argentina will be the favorite no matter which teams wins. Chile will look to continue their hot streak after scoring 7 goals on Mexico, Eduardo Vargas scoring four of those goals. Columbia will ride the back of their young superstar, James Rodriguez, who has 3 points in 3 appearances.
The USMNT will play the loser in the third place game, something that they should take pride in playing. The USMNT played in the third place game last season in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, losing to Panama 3-2 in penalty shots. A third place finish in a major tournament would be a good moral victory for the USMNT after an awful performance like this.