USA Advance to the Copa America Centenario Semifinal

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by Deny Gallagher

The United States have advanced to the semifinal of the Copa America for the first time since 1995 after beating Ecuador in a 2-1 thriller on Thursday night.

In a match that saw everything from red cards to Ecuador manger Gustavo Quinteros getting ejected, Clint Dempsey proved to be the star once again. The Texan finished his night with a goal and an assist on a Gyasi Zardes’ game-winner.

While there is jubilation in the American camp over advancing to face the winner of Argentina and Venezuela in the semifinal, they will have to do so without Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood, and Alejandro Bedoya. The trio will not be eligible for the match due to yellow card accumulation and suspension.

Early in this one, Ecuador gave the United States a ton of respect by lining up in a much more conservative formation then they played during the group stage. The United States showed poise and confidence to gain control of the match in the opening minutes.

In the 22nd minute, the high work rate of the USMNT paid off. An amazing through ball found Bobby Wood in the penalty area. Wood used his strength to jockey for position, only to pass it to Jermaine Jones at the top of the area. The Colorado Rapids man played it over the top and found the head of Clint Dempsey.

In the stadium where Dempsey has dazzled the Sounders faithful for the past few years, Deuce gave them one more Star Spangled reason to cheer. The striker redirected the ball into the back of the net to break the dead lock.

Ecuador’s most threatening chance of the opening stanza came in the shadow of half time when Brad Guzan was forced into action on a Michael Arroyo strike from close range. At the end of the first half, the Americans headed to the locker room with a 1-0 lead.

The 53rd minute will live long in the memory of American soccer fans, as Antonio Valencia blatantly took out Alejandro Bedoya’s legs and was sent off with his second yellow card of the match. However, it was the retaliation by Jermaine Jones, that most missed on first viewing, that earned Jones a straight red card. Jones balled a fist and gave Valencia a slight push on his chin earning the ejection.

With each sides playing with 10-men, the United States could not afford another caution. Bobby Wood didn’t get that memo. Moments after the 53rd minute scuffle, Wood showed his youth by retaliating to pick up a yellow card, his second of the tournament. Both Jones and Wood will miss next week’s semifinal.

In the 65th minute, the Americans surely put themselves into the semifinal of the Copa America Centenario via a Gyasi Zardes goal. The passage began with a Matt Besler cross that found the head of Zardes. The LA Galaxy forward deflected toward Dempsey. The Seattle Sounder continued his prolific night by finding Zardes on the back post to make it 2-0.

A few moments later, Alejandro Bedoya earned his second yellow of the tournament on a frustration-induced clearance. The excessive clearance means that Bedoya will also miss the semifinal matchup next week.

In the 74th minute, Michael Arroyo gave Ecuador a glimmer of hope with their attack building. Off a free kick, the player got the ball at the top of the box and hit a low, hard strike on the ground past Guzan.

The next 15 minutes saw the Americans put everybody behind the ball, as Klinsmann and company solidified the defense. With the crowd at Centurylink Field on the edge of their seat, a nation held their breathe. Each ensuing clearance offered the American Outlaws a chance to exhale, if just for a moment. When the official blew the final whistle, the stadium erupted in jubilation. The Americans were into the semifinal, awaiting the winner of Argentina, Venezuela.