USA-Ecuador: World-class Dempsey leads USA into semis

The USA prevailed, 2-1, over Ecuador with superb performances throughout the lineup, but 33-year-old Clint Dempsey, who debuted for the USA 12 years ago, struck the crucial blows.

USA-Ecuador: U.S. Player Ratings

The victory in Seattle sends the USA into a Copa America Centenario semifinal on Tuesday against the winner of Friday’s Argentina-Venezuela game.

Here are three takeaways from the Seattle showdown.

1. Clint Dempsey is world-class

In the opening loss against Colombia, only Dempsey caused problems for Los Cafeteros. In the win over Costa Rica, he buried a penalty kick and set up two goals. He scored the gamewinner against Paraguay.

In the win over Ecuador, currently tied with Uruguay in first place of the South American World Cup qualifying standings, Dempsey got the ball in midfield in the 21st minute. As he sent a pass to Bobby Wood, Dempsey was sliced down by Christian Noboa. Dempsey got back to his feet and got to the penalty spot in time to receive Jermaine Jones chip to head powerfully into the net.

After each was reduced to 10 men and Ecuador seemed much better exploited the extra space, Dempsey received the ball near the edge of the goal area, and while getting knocked down from behind by Fernando Gaibor slid the ball to Zardes for an easy tap-in.

Only one goal at this tournament, the fourth against Costa Rica by Graham Zusi, didn’t involved Dempsey.

2. Consistency pays off

After the USA was outplayed in its 2-0 opening loss to Colombia, Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, instead of tinkering, allowed his men to fine-tune. He used the same starting lineups for the next two games, a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and a 1-0 win over Paraguay.

And the only change he made against Ecuador was forced by the red-card suspension of right back DeAndre Yedlin. In came Matt Besler, who took the left-back role while Fabian Johnson shifted to the right.

Besler, who sent in the cross that led to the second goal, meshed in smoothly with a backline whose central partnership of John Brooks and Geoff Cameron, with midfielder Michael Bradley sweeping in front of it, is starting to look like the USA’s best ever.

Cohesion also marked the offensive play, especially between Dempsey, Zardes and Bobby Wood, supported by Bedoya and Jermaine Jones, who delivered the cross that Dempsey headed home for the opening goal.

3. USA has a discipline problem

You’ll see different lineup in the semifinal. Bedoya, Wood and Jones are suspended. Bedoya and Wood for yellow-card accumulation, and Jones for a red card after a left-jab to the face of Michael Arroyo.

Jones, who last year was suspended for six games after shoving MLS referee Mark Geiger and served a two-month suspension while still in the Bundesliga for stomping on Marco Reus’ foot, ruined a chance for the USA to play a man-up for the last 38 minutes. Jones lashed out after Antonio Valencia was red-carded for a foul on Bedoya and picked up his first red card for the USA.

The two ejections, two games in a row -- Yedlin for a pair lethal fouls within two minutes against Paraguay – and the foolish yellow cards by Wood and Bedoya didn’t cost the USA, as they prevailed in both games.

The loss of Bedoya shouldn’t hurt too much, as Yedlin will return, so Johnson can move into Bedoya's place in midfield, where he plays for Borussia Moenchengladbach, assuming Besler stays at left back.

Kyle Beckerman is a seasoned defensive midfielder, but doesn’t provide the attacking spark or cover as much ground as Jones.

What really hurts, however, is the loss of Wood, who helped set up both goals against Ecuador, scored against Costa Rica, and has been a perfect partner for Dempsey. Wood got his yellow for inexplicably delivering a flying tackle near the midfield sideline on Jaime Ayovi  when even a tame tackle wasn’t needed.

Klinsmann will likely move Zardes up front, where he plays for LA Galaxy, in place of Wood, and start Graham Zusi, an adequate option on the other wing in place of Zardes.

Reaching the semifinals is a tremendous achievement. But the USA should have been able to get there without 12 yellow cards and two red cards.

26 comments about "USA-Ecuador: World-class Dempsey leads USA into semis".
  1. Bob Ashpole, June 17, 2016 at 8:08 a.m.

    Good article. When a coach tries to improve the mentality of a team, it is best to start by improving the example he sets. I like to say that emotions are contagious.

  2. Bob Ashpole, June 17, 2016 at 8:15 a.m.

    The ejections did cost the USA unnecessary fatigue for the players who had to finish out the matches with 10 men. It is a good thing the USA has a somewhat longer rest before the next match. It is also a good thing to win the match and have to deal with this problem. Although I was screaming at the TV for an earlier US sub, I thought the match generally was very well played and coached. One game at a time.

  3. trebor gt replied, June 17, 2016 at 10:42 a.m.

    Bob - totally agree on the subs. I think particularly in Bedoya's case he was simply too fatigued to stay with the attacker and fouled into a yellow. He should have come out long before that. I found the mounting fatigue for several players and the lack of subs to be an unnecessary risk on JK's part.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, June 17, 2016 at 11:52 a.m.

    Agreed Trebor, it was obvious Bedoya was struggling. I disagreed with KB coming in, Ecuador is just too quick. And, he will probably struggle against our next opponent. I would have used Nagbe, he's quicker and we needed to possess.

  5. Kent James replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:13 p.m.

    Wooden Ships, normally I would like the Beckerman sub as I think he is an excellent defender (and protecting a lead, with Jones out, we needed to get more defense in the center of the field), but the Ecuadorians were tall and quick, so KB did not match up well with them.

  6. Kent James replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:14 p.m.

    And Bob, I agree with your comments...(meant to say that earlier)

  7. Carl Hudson, June 17, 2016 at 8:43 a.m.

    If the USA wants to win another game, they will have to stop playing a 9-1 (later 8-1) formation. Time and time again a lonesome USA forward player got the ball with no help anywhere in sight, so the opposition immediately got a takeaway and resumed their attack. The lack of attacking support was partly due to laziness (inexcusable) or perhaps tiredness (get in better match fitness, people)
    but it was mostly due to the totally defensive USA formation, which required supporting attackers to make tiring long runs (which they stopped doing). The USA will get creamed in the next game unless they get multiple-man attacks going.

  8. Wooden Ships replied, June 17, 2016 at 8:57 a.m.

    I agree Carl, but I think its more a continuing lack of confidence with our individual skills on the ball. Our players don't trust their touch.

  9. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, June 17, 2016 at 10:31 a.m.

    Are you new to the game? US had the lead and was bunkering. That happens all the time.

  10. Jeffrey Organ replied, June 17, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

    I am really proud of our lads, but let's not kid ourselves. The last thing in the world we need to do against Argentina is to start pushing multiple players up field to attack. The only way we have a chance in this game is to play a traditional American all-hands-on-deck defensive and scrambling game, with few mistakes, to absorb the pressure we will receive all night. This is a game we can only win on set pieces or through penalties. BTW, our soccer "Mecca" put fewer fans in the seats for a very important knock-out round game than Philadelphia did last Saturday against Paraguay. Maybe the worship for Seattle soccer fans (led by themselves) will diminish for awhile.

  11. Wooden Ships replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:01 p.m.

    FPGN, I imagine most contributors here are far from new to the game. You can disagree but we are talking opinion. Bunkering exclusively is a dangerous risk. There needs to be relief in the form of possessing and getting in the other half. Many times we had time on the ball, but rather than looking to make a pass, we sent it right back to them. That's where we still showed some weakness in our game.

  12. Kent James replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:20 p.m.

    There is a fine line between not taking unnecessary risks and bunkering, waiting for the inevitable tying goal. The last 15 mins we were certainly over that line, well into the "when is Ecuador going to score" inevitability. I have 3 criticisms of our play during that period; I thought we should have left Wood as an offensive threat, keeping him at midfield looking for the long ball counter (instead of him chasing 3 defenders across the field, and letting their last man be 35 yds from our goal). I thought Brooks & Cameron should have stuck to Valencia like glue (and we were so lucky the he did not score on the 2 golden chances he had). And finally, it seemed that we often had 2 people to the ball, but both seemed to think their mere presence would stop the Ecuadorians, and they often dribbled between us. That I think was a combination of mental and physical fatigue (each player hoping the other would stop the dribble). But the boys pulled it out in the end, and give them credit for that!

  13. Scot Sutherland replied, June 17, 2016 at 1:18 p.m.

    Enjoying these comments, thoughtful and insightful. Since Klinsmann arrived I always felt it was more about Klinsmann that the team. Leaving LD off the world cup roster, players out of position, constant tinkering with the lineup, focus on individual players versus on-field connections. His rhetoric hasn't changed much. He still doesn't focus on partnerships and relationships, but by leaving the same team together, the players have begun to figure it out. It has always been amazing to me how the technical qualities improve when the team begins to gel. Zardes poor first touch was absent. hope Klinsmann doesn't mess with things too much. I would like to see changes that move players into natural positions, Zardes up top, Johnson on the right flank, Nagbe in central midfield, Pulisic on left flank. Then the players can concentrate on the relationships instead of learning an unfamiliar position. The "USA style" Klinsmann keeps talking about is "The whole can be much much bigger than the parts." That is the United States at its best.

  14. Wooden Ships, June 17, 2016 at 8:54 a.m.

    Aside from the importance of the Cameron-Brooks pairing, Wood for me has been the most important player. Deuce would probably finish still, but Wood's tempo and spacing has reinvigorated Clint. Huge loss, as Zardes can do some of what Wood does, but not centrally. I like the unity displayed by the team while on the field, but as mentioned above there is a tipping point occurring when we so vehemently object from the bench area. I mean everyone seems to abandon their seats and rush into the coaches box. I don't think that helps the players on the field and surely doesn't endear the referees to our cause. As JK goes forward, and he will now, I hope he will expect a more evolved response from the touch area. I'm okay with him being demonstrative, but not evrryone else. Gutting it out again. Happy, happy, happy.

  15. Kent James replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:22 p.m.

    Well put. We will miss Wood. He did seem to get very tired against Ecuador (he can't be tired, he's young!).

  16. Kevin Sims, June 17, 2016 at 9:25 a.m.

    Of course thrilled to reach semi. Of course disgusted lack of player discipline leaves team short-handed. You want to play with big boys? Behave like big boys. Poise and grace under pressure matter.

  17. Ric Fonseca replied, June 17, 2016 at 3:05 p.m.

    Hey Kevin, the other guys were also "big boys" and yet they resorted to flagrant fouling and what not and some of our own guys took the bait and "retaliated." After all, didn't someone once said that "it is only a game???"

  18. Ginger Peeler replied, June 17, 2016 at 5:35 p.m.

    Ric, you're so right (but you already knew that, huh?)! My kids were told by all their different coaches over the years to NEVER retaliate to a push, shove, whatever...that 90% of the time, the ref will miss the initial contact, but he will see retaliation.

  19. David Mont, June 17, 2016 at 10 a.m.

    I thought that early in the tournament they were saying that cards are wiped out after the quarterfinals. Am I imaging things?

  20. Eddie Herrera, June 17, 2016 at 10:27 a.m.

    Cards are wiped, but the effects of cards already received remains.

    Reds and accumulated yellows can keep one out of the semis even though the slate is wiped clean after the quarters.

    This is meant to keep someone from missing the finals for a single yellow in the semis.

  21. David Mont replied, June 17, 2016 at 11:37 a.m.

    Thanks, Eddie.

  22. Carl Hudson, June 17, 2016 at 12:05 p.m.

    Well, "Fire Paul Gardner Now" and "Jeffrey Organ", if the USA "bunkers" or plays an "all hands on deck defensive game" they are gonna get about thirty shots a half slammed at them, and I flat out guarantee a couple of them will find the net. The good side of this is that when we are down one or two goals, getting out of our "9-1" bomb shelter may become obvious.

  23. schultz rockne, June 17, 2016 at 10:55 p.m.

    Let's say, in order to truly organize and narrow this unofficial moniker of 'world class,' that the ten best players at their positions--on this planet--may be labeled as such. Just as the title of 'genius' is overused, so is 'world class.' So consider the best number nines (#9s)...Clinton is not one of them...although he's been in great form this tournament. Love your writing, Mike!

  24. schultz rockne replied, June 17, 2016 at 11:45 p.m.

    As an aside, it may be worth discussing whether the USMNT has EVER fielded a 'world class' player. Claudio Reyna may have been close. He was arguably our greatest ever (field player) and made the '02 Tub's best XI. Brad Friedel was right there at his peak. Tim Howard and Kasey Keller--in that order--were on the cusp.

  25. Bob Ashpole replied, June 18, 2016 at 2:06 a.m.

    After reaching the semi-finals, I doubt many people care how the MNT is ranked by FIFA or care about comparisons of individual players. As Hans Solo said to C3PO: "Never tell me the odds." All that matters to me is that the team plays their best in the next match. Argentina is beatable. Just ask Ecuador. They did it last October--Dos a cero.

  26. Richard Brown, June 19, 2016 at 2:07 p.m.

    I would not call Claudio our greatest ever player. This is going to sound strange to some. He was just too high a perchantage player to be our best.

    When he was open in the middle of the field. He would always put the ball out to the flank. There is no goal on a flank. He never tried anything inside the field except one time. It produced a goal. He was coached to be high percentage.

    If I had to pick a player for a short time it might be Clint Mathis. Before his last injury. He was fast he was very skillful and he could score goals from a pass and off the dribble. Plus he could pass. He had it all for while.

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