USA-Ecuador: Both teams regard other as beatable

One of the top soccer venues in the country is about to stage one of the biggest games the national team has played under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

The Americans, who lost to Colombia in the Copa America Centenario opener June 3, kick off the quarterfinals against Ecuador at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Thursday. The winner faces the survivor of an Argentina-Venezuela match in the semifinals.

Here are three storylines to follow in the first of four quarterfinals to be played during the next three days:

SEMIFINALS OR BUST. Klinsmann, who originally stated getting out of the group phase would represent success, upgraded his benchmark objective a few days before the tournament by setting the semifinals as his goal.

Fate apparently handed the U.S. an easier quarterfinal than had been expected when after it beat Paraguay, 1-0, despite playing most of second half with 10 men, Costa Rica’s upset of Colombia (3-2) lifted it into the top spot in Group A. A day later, Peru exploited numerous squandered chances by beating Brazil, 1-0, with a goal scored with the aid of a blatant handball the officials somehow missed.

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Had Brazil gained at least a tie and finished first in Group B, still the Americans would have avoided it in the quarters by its own first-place finish. A 4-0 rout of Costa Rica and gritty 1-0 defeat of Paraguay has done wonders for a team that looked disjointed and overmatched for much of its opener against Colombia.

Of the eight teams remaining in the competition, the USA looks like one of several squads that are a notch or two behind Argentina and Mexico, both of which won their groups. Those teams are on opposite sides of the bracket; on the U.S. side is Argentina, which plays Venezuela in its quarterfinal.

Losing to Argentina in a semi would be no disgrace and fulfill Klinsmann’s stated objective. Yet backed by a large, rowdy crowd in Seattle, the Americans will be expected to prevail against a solid and dangerous South American opponent.

Klinsmann’s task is complicated by the suspension of right back DeAndre Yedlin, whose blazing speed is a significant asset at both ends of the field. The default replacement is Michael Orozco, who took up the task in the Paraguay game and would be the simplest option -- but not the only one -- to face Ecuador.

RATING ECUADOR. Not quite as good as Colombia but better than Paraguay is where Ecuador, which is tied with Uruguay atop the Conmebol World Cup qualifying standings, stacks up in this tournament.

Ecuador’s only Centenario victory is a 4-0 defeat of Haiti, yet it frustrated Brazil in its opener (0-0) and rallied to tie Peru, 2-2, with goals by Enner Valencia and Miller Bolanos (who is injured and will miss Thursday's game) on either side of halftime. They have been one-half of a potent quartet that also includes Jefferson Montero, who had shared with Bolanos the playmaking while stationed wide left, and Antonio Valencia (no relation), a rugged customer whether he goes for the byline or arrows towards the near post. Both Valencias play in the Premier League – Enner for West Ham, Antonio for Manchester United – and thus aren’t prone to be fazed by large, hostile crowds.

Both teams regard the other as beatable, yet the key for Ecuador may be how they handle the noise and conditions (temporary grass surface) at CenturyLink Field. They survived a few scary moments against Brazil in the Rose Bowl but didn’t cope well with early Peruvian pressure before getting a foothold on the match and battling back.

After conceding two goals to Colombia in the first half, the U.S. has blanked opponents for 228 consecutive minutes. Only on a few occasions have the Americans needed keeper Brad Guzan to rectify defensive mistakes and in a match very close to being a tossup one critical moment -- a great play or a terrible mistake -- could determine the outcome.

FLASHBACK TO A FRIENDLY. A Darlington Nagbe goal in the 90th minute earned the USA a 1-0 victory over Ecuador in a friendly watched by less than 10,000 fans at FC Dallas Stadium May 25.

Aside from being a friendly, the match didn’t present the U.S. with all that much scouting data. Antonio Valencia sat out the match, as did left back Walter Ayovi, who has been a national team mainstay for a decade yet at 30 is in the prime of his career. He is the primary conduit linking the back line to the attackers, especially Montero.

(His cousin Jaime Ayovi is also in the squad, and scored a goal against Haiti.)

FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo does a lot of the destroying. The other central mid, Christian Noboa, likes to spray early balls as soon as possible after a turnover. While the back line isn’t particularly strong -- Nagbe scored his first international goal after a ballooned clearance by Juan Carlos Paredes was knocked back into the middle by Bobby Wood –- it can be tough to crack if sufficient screening is provided.

Nagbe and Christian Pulisic came on as subs in the Centenario opener against Colombia; since then, Graham Zusi -- who scored the fourth goal against Costa Rica -- has taken on the role of attacking catalyst off the bench. Klinsmann used the same 11 starters for all three group games and need only replace Yedlin. A few of the backups might be a bit stale from lack of game action; four field players have yet to play in the Centenario.

10 comments about "USA-Ecuador: Both teams regard other as beatable".
  1. Richard Brown, June 16, 2016 at 6:22 a.m.

    As an American I hope the US wins. I just think Klinnesman is not a good coach. We are not getting better under him. So it is possible to lose.

    There was a time when Ecuador could not beat us, but this is not that time anymore.

  2. Christian Navarro, June 16, 2016 at 9:13 a.m.

    Although that might be true of Klinsman, I would much rather have him than BB. Had he still be in charge we would have redcardo clark, and bornstien.

  3. Bob Ashpole, June 16, 2016 at 9:46 a.m.

    I prefer to optimistically think of this as an excellent opportunity for JK to demonstrate that he has improved as a coach and for a new group of USA players to demonstrate the 2002 world cup and 2009 confederations cup performances were not flukes. The players are professionals and will focus on the this game. Would haves, could haves, and should haves are fine for an article, but don't matter in a match. There are no easy games for anyone after the group stage.

  4. beautiful game, June 16, 2016 at 10:54 a.m.

    Key to victory is the MF and team cohesion.

  5. Wooden Ships replied, June 16, 2016 at 2:35 p.m.

    Agreed I w. If we can retain much of the middle third, then we can create chances and not rely upon our defenders to save us. Finish our looks.

  6. cisco martinez, June 16, 2016 at 11:14 a.m.

    Klinsmann needs a win against Ecuador, reaching the semis would be a success, quarter-finals not so much. I am wondering how Klinsmann is going to line up against Ecuador, 4-4-2 flat or 4-2-3-1? Orozco on the right back? Is Bradley going to be the number 6 holding? I think Pulisic deserves a shot on the wings.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, June 16, 2016 at 11:59 a.m.

    I think the key coaching issues are 1) is everyone 100% physically, which will be carefully guarded information, and 2) who replaces Yedlin, which may also not be announced ahead of time. Nagbe and Pulisic are both options and maybe one or both will be needed to start today, but I don't think this is the time for unnecessary tinkering.

  8. Ric Fonseca, June 16, 2016 at 2:28 p.m.

    BOB ASHPOLE has put it briefly and succinctly and to the point: Think optimistically and let's support the USMNT!!!

  9. Kevin Brunton, June 16, 2016 at 3:02 p.m.

    One correction on the article - he ended with "the possibility of extra time and penalty kicks." Copa does not use extra time in the knockout games except for the final. So if it's tied after 90, straight to PK's.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, June 16, 2016 at 5:03 p.m.

    Good catch. I had forgotten that unusual twist.

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