USMNT credits character, experience in group stage success

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER.

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

The US Men’s National Team trekked through the group stage of a major competition once again — but it wasn’t easy. Playing most of the second half down a man, the USMNT maintained their shape and focus against a driven Paraguay side.

As they’ve learned, getting to the knockout stage requires as much mental strength as technique or fitness.

“What I’m proud about from this team is the character they showed, the determination, the heart to battle through those 30, 35 minutes a man down,” Clint Dempsey said. “The last three major competitions we’ve been a part of…being able to advance out of a difficult group and now it’s about when you advance out of the group, what you do so hopefully we can keep pushing.”

Dempsey scored the only goal in the U.S.’ win over Paraguay Saturday. The U.S. were able to hold onto the result despite playing almost the entire second half with ten men after DeAndre Yedlin received two yellow cards in the span of a minute.

Dempsey was a key part in getting the U.S. out of the last two World Cup group stages and the 2009 Confederations Cup — the last time the U.S. played a competitive match down a man.

“It was a difficult situation,” Dempsey said. “The first one, I didn’t think was a foul. The second one was but on the first one, I thought DeAndre got the ball. Anytime you go a man down it’s always difficult but man how did we respond. I thought those guys that were out there on the field really fought hard.”

Dempsey was substituted for Michael Orozco after the red card as the U.S. set up two banks of four to defend. They were largely successful in remaining organized as Paraguay failed to create much from its man advantage. The U.S. still needed a double save from Brad Guzan late on but were able to grind out the result.

“We knew it was going to be tough, we knew it was going to be chippy,” Alejandro Bedoya said. “Everybody plays like that, throwing themselves all over the place, diving and the trying to get the call…We stood in there and across the board everybody worked for it and that says a lot about the team.”

The U.S. will travel to Seattle for its Copa America Centenario quarterfinal. It will find out their quarterfinal opponent today as Group B finishes play. While they are familiar with progressing through competitive groups, they’ve only won one knockout game outside the CONCACAF Gold Cup in ten years.

“It showed a lot of character to stick it out and be ready for anything,” Kyle Beckerman said. “Nobody expected the red card but when it came nobody panicked, the composure was there and we just keep marching forward.”