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.
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