The United States men's national team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Copa America Centenario on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The Americans guaranteed themselves one of the top two spots in Group A following their 1-0 win over Paraguay.
Clint Dempsey scored the lone goal to give the U.S. three points:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
They hold on! With a 1-0 victory, Clint Dempsey and #USMNT are heading to the quarterfinals 🇺🇸 #CopaAmerica https://t.co/aYbTMgeDmt2016-6-12 01:00:19
USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann surprised many supporters when he opted for the same starting XI he used in the first two games of the group stage:
According to Goal.com's Ives Galarcep, Klinsmann had never before used the same lineup for three USMNT matches in a row.
Perhaps Paraguay's slow starts in the tournament were on the German's mind when he thought about his strategy going into the match. OptaJack noted how ineffective Los Guaranies were in the first 45 minutes of their first two Copa America fixtures:
5 - Paraguay only have five shots on target in their first two Copa America games. Only one of those came in either first half. Hindered.2016-6-11 22:46:46
Following a nondescript opening 26 minutes, Dempsey gave the United States a 1-0 lead in the 27th. Gyasi Zardes deserved the lion's share of the credit for the goal.
The Los Angeles Galaxy forward warded off the Paraguayan defenders and delivered a low cross into the 18-yard box, which Dempsey finished with a left-footed effort past goalkeeper Justo Villar, as Univision Deportes shows:
Univision Deportes @UnivisionSports
#USAvPAR: 27'. Clint Dempsey abre el marcador para #USMNT en @LFFStadium. #UDCentenario #Copa100 #CopaAmerica https://t.co/LLXjrLiQLG2016-6-11 23:36:11
U.S. fans have criticized Klinsmann's squad selection throughout his tenure with the team, and the criticism was growing loud following the Americans' 2-0 defeat to Colombia to open the Copa America.
Goal.com's Thomas Floyd thought the last two matches should get some of those detractors off Klinsmann's back:
Thomas Floyd @thomasfloyd10
Give Klinsmann credit where it's due — stuck with Jones against Costa Rica and has kept faith in Zardes. Both paid him back big time. #USMNT2016-6-11 23:36:03
Former USMNT star Landon Donovan added that Klinsmann made some slight tweaks to his lineup, which worked for the better:
Landon Donovan @landondonovan
Klinsmann moved #USMNT from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 and asked Jones/Bradley to stay central in the midfield and organize. Has worked very well so far2016-6-12 00:06:34
The United States didn't mount much offense for the remainder of the half. With his team having pressed Paraguay throughout the match leading up to Dempsey's goal, Klinsmann opted to sit on the one-goal advantage and absorb the Paraguayans' attacks before launching the counter.
That likely would've been the United States' plan for the second half as well, except for the fact that DeAndre Yedlin picked up two yellow cards in a matter of moments and headed to the dressing room in the 48th minute.
Klinsmann's reaction summed up fans' thoughts across the country, per Fox Soccer's Caitlin Murray:
Caitlin Murray @caitlinmurr
Jurgen Klinsmann reacts to DeAndre Yedlin earning a red card. #USMNT #USAvPAR #CopaAmerica https://t.co/Gj3G8J6MqM2016-6-12 00:13:52
Yedlin's first yellow card was debatable, but as NBC Sports' Joe Prince-Wright argued, the Tottenham Hotspur defender had only himself to blame for the second:
Joe Prince-Wright @JPW_NBCSports
Ridiculous challenge from Yedlin when he was already on a yellow. Even if you don't agree with 1st, have to refocus. #USMNT down to 10-men.2016-6-12 00:15:08
Klinsmann substituted Michael Orozco in at right back and brought off Dempsey. The decision strengthened the defense but left the U.S. without one of its best attackers.
Still, the hosts nearly went up 2-0 in the 62nd minute. Bobby Wood sent Zardes through on goal inside the 18-yard box with only Villar to beat. Zardes hesitated, though, and the mistake allowed the Paraguayan keeper to remove the threat.
Total MLS couldn't believe the 24-year-old failed to double the United States' lead:
Total MLS @TotalMLS
Zardes... https://t.co/Lx8b7yaBkj2016-6-12 00:25:45
Paraguay couldn't capitalize on being a man up, though. Especially since they needed to win the match to advance out of the group stage, the South Americans' lack of desperation surprised Vice Sports' Aaron Gordon:
Paraguay nearly found an equalizer in the 82nd minute, but Brad Guzan stonewalled two shots in quick succession, as Univision Deportes illustrates:
Univision Deportes @UnivisionSports
#USAvPAR: Doble atajada de Guzan al 81' y evita el gol de la @Albirroja #CopaAmerica https://t.co/aSU8672b2L2016-6-12 00:52:16
ESPN The Magazine's Doug McIntyre was effusive in his praise of the 31-year-old goalkeeper:
Doug McIntyre @DougMacESPN
This might be the best game I’ve seen Brad Guzan play in a U.S. uniform. #USAvPAR #usmnt2016-6-12 00:45:58
That represented Paraguay's last hurrah. Gustavo Gomez thought he scored in the 89th minute, but the linesman canceled out the tally after ruling the Paraguayan to be offside.
The U.S. will have to wait to see how the rest of the group stage shakes out before it knows its quarterfinal opponent. Colombia can still clinch the top spot in Group A with a win or draw with Costa Rica on Saturday.
Finishing at the top of the group will be particularly important since it would likely mean avoiding Brazil in the next round. Dunga's side didn't look great in a 0-0 draw with Ecuador and arguably should've lost the match, but the eight-time Copa America champions brushed aside Haiti 7-1.
Brazil would be a massive hurdle for the United States as the Americans look to earn a semifinal berth next week.
U.S. defenders John Brooks and Matt Besler both tweeted their reactions after the game:
John Anthony Brooks @j_brooks25
Quarterfinals. 💪🏽🇺🇸 #wallofbrooks #JayB https://t.co/8i1zxEhnYo2016-6-12 01:54:50
Klinsmann didn't want to be too harsh on Yedlin following his sending-off in the second half, per Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy: "He just lost his head for a second. This is why you are young. Gotta give him that benefit of the doubt, gotta give him that credit, that he will learn out of that mistake. Cool down for a couple of minutes, and just find your path in the game again."
"It’s awesome," said Dempsey of the win, per Newsday's Michael Lewis. "The boys showed a lot of heart, especially after that red card."
Klinsmann echoed the sentiment, per Lewis: "The way they grinded out it, the way they kept their shape and discipline, the way they worked for each other, it's an outstanding performance."