USA were dazzled by Argentina – even if the issue is dazzled by the best

USA were dazzled by Argentina – even if the issue is dazzled by the best

Jrgen Klinsmann deserves credit for inspiring exuberance among his players at this months Copa Amrica but willpower only takes a squad so far

It was definitely no humiliation. In the minutes after the US was downed 4-0 to Argentina on Tuesday night, everyone Jrgen Klinsmann, Geoff Cameron, Kyle Beckerman was keen to construct the same phase: there was no dishonor in the loss. After all, this was Lionel Messi! And Argentina! And besides, the US had come so far! Its true, of course: to lose in the Copa Amrica semi-finals to Lionel Messis Argentina, a team that plays on atomic hour when everyone else is left checking the stovetop clock, is no humiliation. But it depends on the manner of the loss and this loss was, on anyones reading, a bum note on which to conclude an otherwise successful tournament for the US mens national team.

Around 30% possession and zero shootings on target( or off target, for that matter) told the story of a night on which the US players stumbled around the pitching with the open-mouthed worship of fans waiting for an autograph. Sure, the US had lost three certain starters during the quarter-final triumph over Ecuador, but it was the teams established and emerging starrings who frustrated the most on Tuesday. Michael Bradley was as hard to press in defense as he was quick to give the ball away in assault; Clint Dempsey, starved of service and unable to free himself of the suffocating attentions of Javier Mascherano, considered the fresh reserves of energy hed discovered in the last few matches desert him; and John Brooks endured his worst jaunt of the tournament. After a performance for the ages against Paraguay, Brooks seemed like many of his team-mates at once confused, subdued, and utterly overawed by the company he had been asked to keep for 90 minutes; the young defender lost Ezequiel Lavezzi for Argentinas first aim, and from that moment the US were never really in the contest. It was like watching a wedding band joined onstage by The Rolling Stones.

Could we have expected more? After the progress of the last three games, in which the US, with a settled line-up, at last approached the mobile, attacking, aesthetic heights Klinsmann had long ago promised would be his gift to American football, this felt like a firm step back in the wrong direction. But lets be fair: a semi-final appearance is well above par for the US at this Copa. Across most metrics results and new talent unearthed especially, but also in the reboot that has been given to domestic football the tournament has been a success for the home team.

And a word, if you please, for Tuesday nights opponents. The US allowed themselves to be amazed, yes but Argentina, to their credit, did not pass up the invitation to amaze. Mascherano, unpressured and unimpressed as always, steered proceedings from the base of the midfield, but it was the forward lightings who shone most brightly: Lavezzi depicted why Europes scouts are so keen to scour the Chinese Super League for promising young has-beens, while Gonzalo Higuans Copa mini-slump can now be definitively proclaimed over.

Meanwhile Messi was Messi, scampering across the field with wriggle, elusive intensity. As he works the tight spaces and find the pockets, head pushed forward and shoulders rolled in a stunning rebuke to the contemporary tyranny of good posture, Messi resembles less an elite athlete than a amazingly mobile and tattooed mole; its the casual earnestness of his mastery his complete lack of ego or bombast on the field that sets him apart from his fellow greats, present or past. In 2014 Messi played through an injury to drag Argentina to the final of the World Cup, but he seemed somehow burdened by expectations; at this Copa, by contrast, hes played with a freedom not assured since his 2014 -1 5 Barcelona bounce. His aim and assists last night were executed with a shrugged , no-look nonchalance that spells difficulty for whichever side joins Argentina in the final. Sundays showpiece will be a fitting way to aim a tournament that has been, on balance, far more entertaining than the more attritional, late-scoring affair taking place on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

USA fans can be happy about a tournament that insured good performances from players such as John Brooks and Bobby Wood. Photo: Wilf Thorne/ ISI/ REX/ Shutterstock

For the US, the news is not all bad. In coming year this tournament will perhaps be remembered principally for the emergence of a new generation of talent to carry the USMNTT( US mens national team torch) once Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Bradley retire. The TV commentators throughout the Copa have hurled out all forms of ludicrous comparisons to make sense of how much we can expect of these players: Brad Friedel compared John Brooks to Eddie Pope at one point, while Bobby Wood drew comparisons to Brian McBride. On the evidence of the Copa, these analogies drastically undersell the ability of the USs new stars. Reports out of England indicate several Premier League clubs are already sizing up the quality of Hertha Berlins fax machine ahead of a post-Copa swoop for Brooks and with good reason, because hes emerged in the last three weeks as that rare bird, a modern, mobile defender whose greatest strength might just be his ability to defend.

Wood has had a no less memorable tournament. The young Hamburg-bound striker was out of the game for two years and even considered discontinuing after sustaining a meniscus trauma in 2011. His goal against Germany last year announced his re-emergence as their own nationals talent, but its taken this Copa and the similarly spectacular turn-and-shoot of his ten-strike against Costa Rica to confirm hes the real deal. Arsne Wenger once said, At 23, its time to play. At 23, Bobby Shou Wood is playing and hes doing everything in his power to live up to the theatrical promise of his middle name. Add Gyasi Zardes, who was one of the few US players to show any enterprise in attack last night( one cross on the 41 st minute including with regard to capture the eye ), Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe, and the US now has a firm core of players around which it was able plan for the coming four to six years.

And what, ultimately, of Jrgen? This tournament has not taught us anything we didnt already know about US soccers pajama-top wearer-in-chief. We knew going into the Copa that Klinsmann is tactically naive but good at getting players motivated for the physical and emotional sprint that is tournament football; and so it has come to pass. Lets not deny the man his due: he inspired the team to get through their group after a tough start, and the emergence of Brooks and Wood has been, at least in part, a Klinsmann production. But all else about the Germans performance in all regions of the tournament the style hes defined his teams up, the instructions hes dedicated his players, his at times bizarre management of substitutes has confirmed the picture of Klinsmann as a well-meaning, exuberant lightweight. We need to stay physical, Klinsmann told his squad at half-time last night, according to the Fox Sports sideline boffins. We need to keep going at them.

Klinsmanns guileless, everyone-gets-a-prize, go for it! approach to tactical gues presented no problem as long as the US was swatting aside fellow middle powers such as Ecuador. But against Messi and co, the German was comprehensively found out. For a start, his selections backfired: Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman were consistently overrun. Starting Wondolowski up front was the various kinds of bold move that, had it paid off, would have find Klinsmann hailed as a tactical seer. It didnt be paid for, on any measure. Klinsmann also left his substitutions late, bringing Pulisic and Nagbe on once the game was already well out of the USs grasp.

The Germans comments after the match did nothing to dispel the sense that as a football thinker, hes no more astute than a weekend coach. Argentina, Klinsmann said, were simply far too good. This applies, of course, but the words were conveyed in a way that suggested Klinsmann absolved himself of all responsibility for what was , no matter the quality of the other side, a exhaustively wretched showing. The great coaches believe they can beat any team , no matter how superior: Klinsmanns defeatism on Tuesday night carried the slightly condescending implication that the US cannot hope to compete against superpowers such as Argentina. To be clear, he didnt say any of this directly but it was there in the far-away, slightly dreamy appear he took on when discussing the victors, just as its been there in the nostalgic way hes elicited Europes superior footballing culture throughout his tenure as US manager.

The US have played enterprising football over the last couple of weeks, and Klinsmann deserves credit for some of that. But the team still depends on individual virtuosity, collective pluck and sheer exuberance to carry it through the major tournaments. That might work occasionally, but its not a plan for long-term success. Stimulating it to the semi-final might constitute a meaty rebuke to Klinsmanns many critics, but nothing about the way the team performed in this Copa indicates a platform for durable progress has been put in place. Signs of intermittent progress bookended by a pair of comfortable failings: such is the performance review of the US at this Copa. After five years of Klinsiball, five years of stasis, five years of hoping for the best against all the evidence, five years of the US being managed by a sideline dad-in-chief, thats surely not good enough.

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