The United States run to the final of the Copa America Centenario comes to an end with Argentina providing a harsh reality check on Tuesday night at the NRG Stadium. The U.S. left the semifinal clash in Houston, Texas with a lot of questions to answer after the 4-0 beat down in front of more than 70,000 fans.
Lack of heart
The U.S. has always been known as the team that might not be the most talented, but their fighting spirit will always keep them in a game. An example of the Yanks "never die" attitude is them defeating Portugal 3-2 in the 2002 World Cup. In that same World Cup, the United States were eliminated by Germany in a narrow and controversial 1-0 lost in the quarterfinals.
However, the Americans did not back down from the challenge. As they created more chances, but a determined German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn kept the United States off the scoreboard.
Whether they lost or won a game the Yanks usually left the field knowing that they put everything on the line. However, on Tuesday, the Stars and Stripes left a lot to be desired.
One can say the match ended when Lionel Messi doubling the lead with his breathtaking goal from a set piece in the 32nd minute. The United States' energy after that goal dropped, Argentina was running at full speed for everything and the US looked as if they were jogging up an endless mountain.
Never in this match did the United States looked like they believed that they could come back or even generate an attack. They never even seemed up for the challenge to fight for loose balls or apply pressure on La Albiceleste's offense. If it was not for the tireless Gyasi Zardes running up and down the field, the U.S. might have never seen the Argentinean back line.
However, Zardes' endless running went to waste since the rest of the team approached the defense afraid to make a run, pass or to take a shot near or around the penalty box. The US offense put in their worst shift in a long time. In a 93 minute match, the Yanks were not able to generate a single attempt on goal. The Argentines defense is good but not great.
Last Saturday Argentina faced the last place team in the current CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifications, Venezuela in their quarterfinal matchup at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. La Albiceleste ended up winning the match by a deceiving 4-1 score line.
La Vinotinto was able to create numerous goal scoring chances in the match. In fact, their offense produced ten shots; four of them were on target.
The Venezuelan's downfall was that they were not able to convert their opportunities on that day. They had one shot hit the post, plus they missed a penalty, which ended up costing Los Criollos a potential upset.
The effort of Venezuela was there but the end product was not, but still they left the tournament with pride. However, the Yanks in the other hand will be heading to the third place match on Saturday at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona wondering if they can even complete a pass.
Failing to complete fundamentals
Against La Albiceleste's midfield, the United States struggled to string together three passes and to hold on to the ball for more than a minute or two. They ended the match with only 318 attempted passes, compared to Argentina's 680. The U.S. completion rate was an abysmal 71 percent and Argentina's was an 86 percent.
The reason for these two lopsided stats was because the U.S. midfield was nowhere to be found. Argentina's Javier Mascherano, Éver Banega, and Augusto Fernández controlled the tempo of the game and overran U.S. captain Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman.
For the entire match, the two of them were never on the offensive, they were just attempting to press La Albiceleste, and then they would lose the ball in a matter of seconds. That was the role that the U.S. midfield played at NRG Stadium.
The United States never were able to muster up a response and counter the control of the three Argentines in the midfield. That's why Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski were forced to go and defend to just get touches on the ball. Even the addition of Christian Pulisic was useless since there was no midfield to provide him service.
The U.S. struggled with turnovers and mistakes
However, what the United States did do throughout the match was lose the ball. All four goals for Argentina were spawned from errors or turnovers. The first goal had three errors that took place in a matter of seconds. First, the U.S. defense allowed Messi to be wide open at the top of the box when he received the ball.
Then three United States players started sprinting to Messi's direction. He did not wait for them to close his angles, so he just chipped the ball over them and to a wide open Ezequiel Lavezzi. Now the second error starts with Beckerman hesitating to make a move towards the 31-year-old striker.
Now for the final mistake, U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan was hesitant in his decision to come out and challenge Lavezzi for the ball or stay back in goal. He ended up staying planted in the middle, which resulted with the veteran forward heading the ball over Guzan to give Argentina the 1-0 lead in the third minute.
The second goal was a brilliant set piece from Messi, but the play started with a Wondolowski turnover. Messi recovered the ball and made a run towards the top of the box. A few U.S. players failed to stop the Argentinean playmaker.
However, Wondolowski did not give up on the play and ran after Messi. Once he noticed he was not going to be able to stop him the San Jose Earthquakes striker fouled him and picked a yellow card. Messi then did the rest and made the score 2-0, while dazzling everybody at the NRG Stadium.
The third goal started with a turnover from Geoff Cameron in the middle of the pitch. He failed to control the pass from Beckerman quick enough. Before he was able to regain his footing an Argentinean had already stolen the ball and the fast break was on.
Messi quickly dished the ball out to a wide-open Lavezzi on the left-hand side of the field. The 31-year-old forward wasted no time and sent a ball into the center of the box.
Gonzalo Higuain controlled the pass near the penalty spot, and he was open. U.S. center back John Brooks completely lost the Argentinean striker near the top of the box.
Higuain did not wait for Brooks to recover as he took a quick close range shot at Guzan. The 'keeper made the initial save but Higuain was there to pounce on the rebound to make it 3-0 at the 50th minute.
The U.S. defense was not that far behind when Higuain and Guzan were having a showdown, but none of the defenders even came close to bothering the forward.
The fourth goal was a comedy reel of mistakes and turnovers. The play began with Bradley having possession of the ball at the top of the box. La Albiceleste pressure did not give the captain any passing lanes to start a counter, so he made a fundamental mistake and passed the ball across the top of the box to substitute Steve Birnbaum.
The D.C. United center back froze and let the ball rolled past him. Then Messi collected the loose ball and made a quick run into the box to divert the defenders away from Higuain.
After drawing Brooks away from the center of the penalty area, he passed the ball back to the striker, who was once again open and in front of the net. Higuain calmly finished the play and secured the 4-0 victory in the 86th minute.
When the referee ended the match, the U.S. players were exhausted. They spent the entire match chasing nothing but shadows. It will be interesting to see how quick U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann can get the national team to rebound from this soulless performance from the United States.
If he fails, then the magical run the Americans had to get to the semifinals of this tournament will be erased with two consecutive disastrous results.