KENYA BROWN - Thursday, June 23, 2016
Argentina showed why they are the top team in the world as they whipped the United States 4-0 on Tuesday in the semifinal of the Copa América Centenario in Houston.
It was no question that Argentina were the heavy favorites to win the game, and if the US had any chance of pulling off the upset, they would have needed to play a perfect game. In addition, as the only remaining CONCACAF team in the tournament, they had to restore some pride in the region after Mexico's touchdown loss to Chile in the quarterfinals.
However, it was not meant to be as la Albiceleste dominated the game from the get go to book their place in the final in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
The US came into the game not only at a disadvantage technical-wise, but also personnel-wise as they were without Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya and Bobby Wood due to suspensions. In their absence, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann inserted Chris Wondolowski, Graham Zusi and Kyle Beckerman into the starting lineup.
The team found themselves in a hole only three minutes into the first half when Ezequiel Lavezzi got behind the US defense to head in a chip pass from Lionel Messi to open the scoring. It was not surprising that the host country allowed the first goal as they have done so on many occasions, only to make a comeback later on. But when you are playing against the likes of Argentina, the slightest error could affect any chance of getting back into the game.
The US were outmatched in every aspect of the game and it was going to be a long night as the team failed to hold on to the ball whenever they had possession of it. They also completed only 63 percent of their passes in the half and failed to register one shot on goal.
Whatever inspiration they were hoping to get from the 1995 Copa América team that beat the Argentines 3-0 in Paysandu, Uruguay, was not coming. The only thing they could hope for was to not let the game get out of hand.
Argentina struck again just past the half hour mark when Lionel Messi showed his brilliance with a goal from a free kick. The captain, who came into the tournament nursing a rib injury and starting only his second game, tucked the ball into the top right corner of the goal, past an outstretched Brad Guzan. It was the type of goal that would even make a member of the American Outlaws take their hat off and applaud.
Messi's goal saw him become Argentina's all-time top goal scorer, surpassing Gabriel Batistuta, and the US become the answer to a trivia question at future pub quizzes across the world.
Down 2-0 at the half and the US needed more than a miracle to get back into the game. However, Thomas Dooley, Eric Wynalda, Earnie Stewart, Claudio Reyna or Tab Ramos (on the bench as an assistant coach) were not walking through the door to save them.
A Twitter post by former player Alecko Eskandarian pretty much summed up the sentiment of people watching the game.
"Not by creating false expectations in the pregame show. We don't have one player that would make Argentina's roster," he tweeted.
Klinsmann tried to shake things up in the second half by brining on teenage sensation Christian Pulisic for the ineffective Wondolowski, but Argentina once again dominated proceedings.
And it did not take long for the Argentines to score their third of the night as Gonzalo Higuain found the back of the net in the 50th minute. The Napoli forward was released into the area all alone for the attempt. Guzan saved the first effort well, but Higuain pounced on the rebound and made sure it went in the second time.
This all but took the chances of a US comeback out of the air. Now, the goal was more about preventing Argentina from reaching that touchdown score.
There was a glimmer of hope in the 67th minute when the U.S. earned their first corner kick of the game. Jubilation everywhere! However, Michael Bradley's kick went straight into the hands of goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
The US had another opportunity 10 minutes later when an attack from the right side lead to a cross into the area for Pulisic, but the 17-year-old passed up to taking the team's first official shot on the Argentine goal. Argentina followed that with a counter, but Erik Lamela's effort was off target.
Darlington Nagbe would come on for Clint Dempsey in the latter stage of the second half to perhaps inspire a sudden comeback, but who are we kidding?
Argentina added its fourth and final goal in the 86th minute when the U.S. lost the ball in their area and allowed Messi to pass it over to Higuain who scored his second on the night.
It was demoralizing loss, but one positive takeaway from the game was that the US avoided being beaten by a football score.
There will be no final for the U.S., but they do have a chance at some redemption as they have a rematch with Colombia on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, in the just as important third place game.