Copa America 2016: USA Men's National Team - The other success story of the tournament
The culmination of the recently concluded Copa America Centenario brought a close to 3 week long extravaganza on the USA soil. The special edition of the tournament was held outside the South American continent for the first time in order to celebrate a hundred years of CONMEBOL and turned out to be quite the entertaining affair right until the end. While Chile might have retained their title against Argentina, a team vying for the title for the first time impressed one and all with their performances- the United States of America.
The side coached by Jurgen Klinsmann entered the tournament having won their 3 warm-up games against Puerto Rico, Ecuador and Bolivia, and recording 2 shutouts during these outings. However, their opening game against the World Number 3 Colombia was never going to be an easy affair and expectedly, the side came up short. The flamboyant Colombian side dominated the proceedings for large amounts of the time at the Levi’s stadium and went on to win the game 2-0.
The opening game served as a timely reminder to the side and they responded with their best performances over the next 2 league games, brushing aside Costa Rica (a higher placed team in the FIFA World Rankings) and chalking out a hard fought win against a lower ranked Paraguay. Their impressive 4-0 win against Costa Rica ensured that the side finished atop their group courtesy of a better goal difference than Colombia.
The Quarterfinals draw saw the side face Ecuador, a side they had beaten in a warm up game prior to the tournament and they were fairly confident of repeating the feat in less than a month. The USA began the game on a positive note going 2-0 ahead within 65 minutes and looked set for a comfortable win. However, Ecuador provided some drama to the quarterfinals when they scored in 74th minute towards the end of the regular time. Team USA, led by Brad Guzan between the sticks, ensured that their side progressed to the next round.
The team has a number of players plying their trade in top leagues across the globe. However, they were never expected to be in contention against Argentina in the semi-final. The side was convincingly beaten by a Messi inspired Argentina thus ending their hope of lifting the trophy. Given the side’s reputation in the international football, it would have been a great end had they bagged a third place finish. However, it was not to be as the side lost to a single Bacca goal in the 31st minute. They were persistent in the second half of the game, creating numerous opportunities. However, their finishing let them down and their hopes of securing a podium finish at the tournament wasn’t realized.
The ‘Soccer’ playing team has often been ridiculed for being mere cattle fodder at major tournaments due to the lack of apparent quality in the side. However, under Jurgen Klinsmann, the national team seems to be moving along the right course in recent years. With the World Cup not too far away, the side should now concentrate on ensuring that they work towards building a ‘collective’ mentality and concentrate on their strengths which seem to lie in youth development (read about Pulisic). A special mention also needs to be made for the fans that poured in huge numbers to attend the various games. For me, the USA were the real success story of the tournament as they punched above their weight in the tournament spurred on by fantastic home support, which in itself is pleasing as football as a sport seems to have finally moved beyond grassroot excellence and has arrived in the USA. This team can now successfully claim to have put the doubts that surround their ability to perform at the highest stage to bed.