By Michael C. Jones
The U.S. Men’s National Team has advanced to the quarterfinals of Copa America Centenario and will face Ecuador Thursday at 6:30 pm at CenturyLink Field. In anticipation of this match, we answer eight questions about the match and the tournament.
What is it?
The Copa America Centenario is an international men’s soccer tournament, and as its name this year indicates, it was first played in 1916. The centennial edition is the first Copa America tournament to be hosted outside South America, this time being played in the U.S. This year also features an expanded field, with 16 teams instead of 12. The tournament includes teams from the South American federation CONMEBOL and from CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. The tournament usually is played every four years, and Chile won it last year, but organizers abbreviated the usual layoff to celebrate the 100th anniversary. It is next scheduled to be played in 2019.
Are there any Seattle connections?
Yes, there are two, but we’ll get to see only one on Thursday. Clint Dempsey is of course the biggest star on the Seattle Sounders FC, and he is expected to play against Ecuador. DeAndre Yedlin is from Seattle (O’Dea High School, shout out!) and was an MLS All Star during his rookie season with the Sounders in 2013 before he joined Tottenham in the UK. But he’ll miss Thursday’s match after a stunning turn of events in the U.S. win over Paraguay, when he was assessed two yellow cards in under a minute. The ensuing (and unusual in this context) red card means automatic suspension for the next match
How did the U.S get here?
The U.S. started the tournament with a 2-0 loss to regional power Colombia, then bounced back with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica. Clint Dempsey scored the lone goal in the U.S.’s 1-0 win over Paraguay. The U.S. won Group A on goal differential after Colombia’s surprising 3-2 loss to Costa Rica, which dropped Colombia to third place.
Is Ecuador any good?
Ecuador is ranked 13th by FIFA. They handily defeated Haiti on Sunday 4-0 to face the U.S. FIFA ranks the U.S. 31st, and on neutral turf, Ecuador would be the favorite. The two teams have recent history. The U.S. and Ecuador played a friendly on May 25 in Frisco, Texas, with the Americans winning 1-0 on a goal in the 90th minute. The US team’s lackluster play in that game prompted Sean Wagner-McGough of CBS Sports to muse, “Don’t be surprised if the team struggles to survive at Copa America Centenario.” Fortunately the U.S. men have exceeded those expectations and are just two wins away from the final.
Why not Brazil?
Even the most casual soccer fan recognizes that Brazil is the powerhouse of the hemisphere (with all due respect to Lionel Messi’s national team, Argentina.) So where is Brazil in this tournament? Shouldn’t they be standing in the U.S. team’s way? They would be, except Peru beat Brazil for the first time in 30 years with a hand-ball goal. Isn’t that illegal? Yes, yes it is. What it called? No, no it was not, unless you count the call by Fox Sports. If not for that goal, Brazil would have advanced, since all they needed was a draw, but a third place Group B finish, behind Peru and Ecuador, sent Brazil packing.
Is it a big deal that the U.S. is playing at CenturyLink?
With the U.S. hosting the tournament for the first time, it could be argued that the U.S. men have a home field advantage wherever they play. But Seattle has become a hotbed of soccer support. Seattle Sounder FC matches consistently sell out, and Roger Gonzalez of CBS Sports calls the Sounders fans’ ‘march to the match’ “one of the best traditions in American soccer.” Seattle soccer fans are expected to treat the match like a big deal, indeed, especially since it will be the first U.S. Men’s National Team match in Seattle since June 2013, and hometown hero Dempsey is a team leader.
Can the U.S. win?
History is against the U.S. men. Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated points out that in 100 years of international play, the USMNT has won just two knockout, non-consolation matches against non-CONCACAF teams versus 12 losses. Straus adds that Ecuador is one of only two CONMEBOL squads to never win this tournament, so they’re bound to bring their A game. Whichever team wins this match likely faces a daunting opponent in the quarterfinals in Argentina. FIFA’s top-ranked team, Argentina plays Bolivia (Bolivia, Bolivia, they’re here somewhere, oh there they are, at 82) Wednesday at 7:00 pm, also at CenturyLink.
What’s your prediction?
U.S. 2, Ecuador 1.