USMNT Deliver 2nd Straight Gutsy Performance to Advance to Copa America SemisJune 17, 2016
No one ever said advancing to the semifinal round of a major tournament would be easy.
For the second consecutive match, the United States men's national team displayed a ton of resiliency with 10 men to hold on for a victory at the Copa America Centenario.
On Thursday, seconds after Ecuador's Antonio Valencia received a second yellow for a cheap tackle on Alejandro Bedoya near the benches, Jermaine Jones put his hands in the face of an Ecuador player during the scrum that ensued. With that, the menace of the USMNT midfield was sent off.
USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann provided his thoughts on the referee's decision after the match, per ESPN's Doug McIntyre:
Following the red card, the Yanks went ahead by two goals through Gyasi Zardes, and then Ecuador pulled within one by way of Michael Arroyo. The visitors had a wide array of chances to equalize in front of a raucous environment at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
When the referee finally blew an end to the madness, the USMNT left the field with a hard-earned 2-1 victory and a spot in the semifinals of a major tournament for the first time since the 2009 Confederations Cup.
"The last two games they showed it. We stayed compact and were difficult to break down and just showing a lot of heart, really," USMNT forward Clint Dempsey said after the match, per the tournament's official Twitter page.
"At the same time, we've been able to get goals to give us that cushion, so hopefully we can keep going. We're still alive in this tournament, and we're in the semifinals of a major competition so we're happy."
The desire to advance regardless of the circumstances has been a trademark of USMNT sides in past major competitions, but there was plenty of doubt the American fighting spirit would appear ahead of the tournament given Klinsmann's topsy-turvy reign.
However, over the last two matches, the Yanks have made a statement.
The USMNT produced a splendid first 45 minutes that will go down as one of the best halves of Klinsmann's time in charge. The back line remained compact, and when the Ecuador attackers thought they found space, the Yanks provided cover in seconds.
Moving forward, the Americans exuded a lot of confidence, especially Bobby Wood, who worked his way behind the Ecuador back four on countless occasions.
After the dual sending-off occurred, the USMNT turned in a different type of performance that was full of grit and determination.
The Yanks had to fight off fatigue, Ecuador's desperation to score and a potential second red card. Additionally, a few USMNT players were sitting on cumulative yellow cards heading into the contest, which led to plenty of nervy challenges in the second half.
Luckily for the Yanks, center-back John Brooks, who has been one of the best players at the Copa, avoided a suspension, but Wood and Bedoya did not.
In the coming days, Klinsmann must find a way to align the eligible members of his 23-man squad into a starting XI that has the ability to provide potential semifinal opponent Argentina with a test for 90 minutes.
However, before we look ahead to Tuesday's semifinal at NRG Stadium in Houston, we need to sit down and admire the courageous performance the USMNT put in on Thursday night.
The Yanks were at a disadvantage heading into the match due to starting right-back DeAndre Yedlin's suspension. Klinsmann opted to shift Fabian Johnson to the right side of defense and bring in Matt Besler, who is a center-back, to play left-back. The pair of full-backs performed impressively on each flank against the dangerous contingent of wingers in the Ecuador XI.
Besler, who may find himself in a starting role once again due to the suspensions in the squad, received plenty of praise from his defensive colleague Geoff Cameron, per his club side Sporting Kansas City's Twitter account:
Johnson should receive the same plaudits, as he contained Jefferson Montero for the majority of the match. The Borussia Monchengladbach man, who started on the attacking half of the left wing for most of the Bundesliga campaign, also made 12 ball recoveries on the right flank, per Opta:
The individual showings from the members of the back four weren't the only things that stood out.
Every time Ecuador attempted to break open the USMNT back line, a white shirt was there to cover up the open space. By closing up the shooting lanes, the Americans forced their South American foes to pass the ball around more during their attacking buildup. That allowed players like Brooks and Michael Bradley to recover and make needed interceptions in front of Brad Guzan.
When the Yanks surged into the final third, Wood broke apart the Ecuador back line with his over-the-shoulder runs and pace. The Hamburg SV man created the first goal as he held up play on the right edge of the penalty area before he played the ball over to Jones.
Jones lofted a beautiful cross to Dempsey, who moved into a tie atop the Golden Boot standings with Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho with his 22nd-minute tally.
Dempsey, who has been a part of many gutsy USMNT performances during his career, also played a role in the USMNT's second strike in the 65th minute.
The second-leading scorer in USMNT history hustled through a pair of defenders to knock Zardes' headed pass back in the direction of the LA Galaxy man. All Zardes had to do was tap the ball into the right side of the net to hand the Yanks a two-goal cushion they would need later in the contest.
If you rewind the tape further on the buildup to the Zardes strike, Wood worked well on the left wing to keep possession and feed Besler, who picked out Zardes with a cross.
Although Klinsmann should've managed his substitutions better after the second tally, the USMNT still fought hard with the never-say-die mentality we've become accustomed to seeing in major tournaments.
Even after Ecuador pulled a goal back through Arroyo in the 74th minute, the Yanks showed a resiliency that has hasn't always been present during late-game situations in the Klinsmann era.
The Yanks have reversed their ugly trend of conceding late that hurt them after the 2014 FIFA World Cup. They have held six clean sheets in 11 overall matches in 2016 and let in just two second-half goals since the new year began.
All that matters right now is the USMNT is one of four teams in the semifinal round. Further, the Yanks gained two more days off than the winner of Saturday's contest between Argentina and Venezuela. The USMNT will already be preparing in Houston by the time that match kicks off at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
In the days leading into Tuesday's match, Klinsmann must find a starting XI that works best for him without Bedoya, Jones and Wood. But before he even thinks about that, the USMNT boss and his players will receive a chance to bask in the most memorable win on home soil since the 1994 World Cup victory over Colombia.
Joe Tansey covers U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.