"It's not getting any bigger than this," said head coach Jürgen Klinsmann. "This is the biggest game of the year."
The United States will take on Ecuador Thursday night at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, WA. Jürgen Klinsmann is one win away from achieving the goal he set prior to Copa America Centenario, making the semifinals. This writer was very skeptical that they could get past the group stages and he is glad that he was wrong. Man, was he ever so wrong.
Somehow the United States won Group A, the so-called “Group of Death”. If it wasn’t for Colombia's head coach José Pékerman making ten changes to his lineup in their game against Costa Rica, the United States would be playing in East Rutherford, NJ at MetLife Stadium.
Ecuador finished runner-ups in Group B with the likes of Peru, Brazil, and Haiti. Three of the four teams had a legitimate chance of advancing, sorry Haiti. Brazil was done in on a goal that should not have counted because of a handball. One could say that Ecuador was done in on not having a goal allowed in their game against Brazil. The assistant referee on the other side of the field ruled that the ball went fully over the end line and out for a goal kick. Replays confirmed that was not the case. If not for that egregious call, the U.S. would be playing Peru, as the extra two points would have given Ecuador the win in group B.
None of that matters now as this game has been set in stone and we get to see two teams square off again after playing just three weeks ago. The United States won their Copa America Centenario “tune-up” match 1-0 over Ecuador after Darlington Nagbe scored in the 90th minute to secure the win. Unlike the last game, this game actually matters as both teams will be trying to punch their ticket to the semifinals.
This will be the 13th all-time meeting between the two countries. The last seven meeting have all been international friendlies and the U.S. has a record of 3-2-2 (win-loss-tie) in those seven meeting. The U.S has scored six goals while conceding four. The last meaningful game between these two was during the 1993 Copa America. Ecuador beat the U.S. 2-0 that day which was part of a 0-4-3 run for the U.S. against Ecuador going back to 1984.
The United States will see a lineup change
For the first time in Copa America Centenario, the U.S. will not run out the same starting XI it has for the first three games. That is because DeAndre Yedlin picked up two yellow cards in a matter of seconds in the final group stage game against Paraguay. Yedlin is also losing out on making a return to his hometown for the first time as the former Seattle Sounders defender made a move to Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League after the 2014 MLS season.
Yedlin’s suspension could really hurt the United States as Ecuador have an excellent attack, especially at the wing position. Whoever replaces Yedlin at the right back spot will have his hands full with the likes of Jefferson Montero, Antonio Valencia, Miller Bolanos and Walter Ayovia. Klinsmann has a few choices to make. Does he put Michael Orozco at the right back position, even though it’s not his natural position? He can move Fabian Johnson from the left to the right and put Edgar Castillo in Johnson’s spot. Last, but not least, Klinsmann could move Geoff Cameron from center back to Yedlin’s position. But that would break up the chemistry between Cameron and John Brooks. So Klinsmann has a lot to consider before the game on Thursday against Ecuador.
Seattle potential to be fortress for the United States
CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Sounders of MLS, has the potential to a fortress for the United States. This will more than likely be one of the few places that the U.S. will travel to that will have more home fans than fans from the other team. Klinsmann will not have to try to pump up the crowd like he did in Philadelphia for their game against Paraguay. Seattle is known for their boisterous crowds of over 40,000 and with 42,000 tickets already sold, you can expect this one to be loud and primarily pro-United States.
The last time the United States played in Seattle was during the 2014 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying cycle. The U.S. hosted Panama on June 11, 2013, and defeated their CONCACAF rivals 2-0. There were 40,847 in attendance that night and none of them could be kept quiet. Expect more of the same on Thursday night.
Both teams are playing for a spot in the semifinals and a minimum of two more games, there is a third place game for the two teams that lose their semifinal match, and both teams will be coming out looking to get on the board early. Ecuador will do their best to exploit whoever takes Yedlin’s spot. The U.S. will need to control Enner Valencia as he can be a thorn in any defenses side. They need to make sure that they are communicating at all times and not have any mental lapses.
This game will not head to extra time because their is no extra time in the quarterfinals of semifinals. The U.S. will beat Ecuador 2-1 with the winning goal coming late in the match and head to NRG Stadium in Houston, TX to take on the winner of Argentina-Venezuela on June 21st.