By Julie Glass
The Americans are bound for the Copa America Centenario semifinals!
The U.S. achieved coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s goal of a final four berth by continuing its impressive tournament run with a 2-1 victory over Ecuador before 47,322 fans at raucous CenturyLink Field last night.
The players who fueled USA’s run to the top of Group A came through again. Clint Dempsey scored his third goal of the tourney for an early lead and set up Gyasi Zardes’s eventual winner in the second half with his third Copa assist. Defensively, John Brooks stood tall once more as the rock of an emerging American backline, while Alejandro Bedoya did all the dirty work necessary in midfield in his manic 81 minutes.
The Americans will face the winner of Saturday’s Argentina-Venezuela quarterfinal in Houston on Tuesday. Yes, it could be the USA vs. Lionel Messi for a chance to play in the June 26 final in New Jersey.
“We’ve all played in games like that. We’ve all been in moments where things get crazy, where things start to get a little more chaotic,” captain Michael Bradley said. “At that point, there are no style points. It’s about doing whatever it takes.”
The result was no fluke. The U.S. dominated play early against Ecuador, the world’s 13th-ranked team, before finally cashing in on Dempsey’s opening goal in the 22nd minute.
Bobby Wood, whose long runs early on gave Ecuador fits, dribbled into the box and patiently played the ball back toJermaine Jones at the top of the 18. Jones’ one-timed chip to the far post found Dempsey, whose cracking header back across goal beat goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.
Ecuador, somewhat slumbering for the first 25 minutes, finally awoke to produce some scoring chances. In the 29th minute, Michael Arroyo got a snapshot off in the box only to have it blocked by Brooks. Then, just before halftime, Enner Valencia got behind Brooks to run in alone on Brad Guzan, but the U.S. goalkeeper stood his ground to make the save.
The U.S.’s 1-0 lead immediately became tenuous in the second half as Ecuador pressed for an equalizer. And as the intensity picked up, so did the physical play. The confrontation came to a head in the 52nd minute when Antonio Valencia took out the legs of Bedoya with a rash touchline tackle. That sparked a scuffle that led to an apparent slap by Jermaine Jone. Both Valencia and Jones were sent off to reduce the teams to 10 men.