I did not sleep much last night. And I am sure you did not either. The Day of Reckoning is upon us. The United States of America face Number One in the world Argentina in the semi-final of the Copa America Centenario. Make no mistake about it. This is the biggest U.S. Men’s game played on home turf since the 1994 World Cup Round of 16 Brazil 1 USA 0.
Let me rephrase that: Not strictly the USA, but a severely depleted USA…
Suspension will rob a suddenly stable starting eleven of Gritty Work’s Ale Bedoya, St. Bobby Wood, and Tenacity’s Jermaine Jones. The big tactical question this raises is obvious: who now is going to do the “punching in the face”?
Wait. It gets worse: Argentina really want to win this game. They have not lifted silverware at a major tournament since 1993. For all of the trophies, tchotchkes and baubles he has amassed at club level, Lionel Messi has never won one in an Argentina jersey… this will be a truly motivated Los Albicelestes eleven.
As such, tonight’s game conjures so many conflicting emotions. Nervous excitement. Fear of humiliation with the entire nation looking. A long held desire, that is all the more powerful for being primal, emotional, and inarticulate, that the U.S. MIGHT JUST DO IT AND SHOCK THE WORLD…
Even though I have spent an inordinate amount of time praying to R'hllor and the drowned god, my overriding emotion is this: This is a great day for the sport of soccer in this country. A slice of the future played out in the present. The United States going up against an elite team in a semi-final played on American soil is a taste of World Cup 2026 lived in the now.
Lionel Messi, Kun Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuaín are going to run at the United States. Just typing that sentence I feel like Arya stark running through her Hit List in whispered tones. But take solace: The “Best Player in the World” is poised to come up against the “Best Player in the World named Kyle.” Let us pray Beckerman’s Tax Fraud Trash Talk game is on INSERT THREE FIRE EMOJIS.
How exactly are the US going to do it?
- We could employ “The Waif Strategy” which involves luring the entire Argentine eleven into a small, windowless room and then blowing out the candle.
- The good news is THERE IS NO PRESSURE ON THE UNITED STATES. They play this game with House Money. Jurgen Klinsmann set reaching the semi-finals as this team’s goal. Though many chortled, the U.S. made it. As Jermaine Jones told me yesterday in a Copa America Pod Special [LISTEN HERE], “There's really no pressure on us. The pressure was on us when people said, 'They have to come out of the group.' And then they said, 'Oh, they have no chance. They will not come out of the group.' That was pressure. At the end of the day, we've won already with what we did.” Look at the results Wales, Iceland, and even Northern Ireland have conjured when the pressure was on their opponents over the course of the past week. Whatever happens tonight, the United States will play, what for many of the starters will be the game of their career, with freedom, and the ability to savor the experience.
- The United States will drop bodies back and attempt to smother Lionel Messi and the formidable attacking four. We will try and soak up the pressure. Brad Guzan is in the form of his life. He will have to unfurl a game which makes Tim Howard’s Belgium antics look like practice. The United States best chances of scoring will be off set pieces, free kicks or Clint Dempsey just providing the kind of miracle play he made routine in the scrub fields of Nacogdoches, Texas.
The joy of international football, in which chemistry and collective cohesion (see Ronaldo’s Portugal) counts for so much is that miracles can and do happen. In the run up to tonight’s game I have watched and re-watched the United States’ 2002 World Cup 3-2 glory against Portugal -- the Portugal of Figo, Rui Costa, and Pauletta. All of whom were powerless as the United States of Brian McBride and John O’Brien charged to a 3-0 lead within the first 36 minutes. I asked Jermaine Jones to sum up the mentality of this United States team and the way he described it: "You go hard, we go harder. We come back at you…” conjured memories of that defiantly collective 2002 squad.
Irrespective, I think the most important thing about tonight is this: Just enjoy it. Wherever you are watching. Whomever you are watching with. Even if you are one of the players, savor every second and make fantastic memories. Because whatever happens tonight, the success of this tournament and the United States' journey lies in the belief and muscle memory it will equip future USMNT teams with when they reach the wide-open waters of a World Cup knockout round. They will draw on the experience of the Ecuador victory and tell themselves, we CAN win games in the elimination stage, when football is played without a safety net.
So for one night: Let’s forgo drinking Malbec, prepare to overuse American flag emojis, scream with all of our energy, and get ready to witness a sporting gift, and dream of a night so magical, that in nine months time, there will be a glut of American babies named Kyle, Darlington, and Jurgen.