The United States men’s national team trailed the best team in the world by one goal after 30 minutes of the Copa América semifinal. The best-case scenario for the 31st ranked team is to keep the deficit where it is until half time comes around, where head coach Jürgen Klinsmann can make the necessary adjustments. Instead, a nonsensical foul by USA striker Chris Wondolowski on Argentina foward Lionel Messi gave the greatest player in the world a golden opportunity to crush his opposition’s hopes. The 28 year-old Barcelona megastar calmly tied his shoes, set the ball on the pitch, and methodically planned out his next highlight reel goal. Leo took a few steps, his foot met the ball perfectly, and it sailed into the top-right corner of the goal, which proved too dynamic for goalkeeper Brad Guzan to stop. A 2-0 lead proved to be insurmountable for a USA squad that wanted one chance to prove their value in what pundits described as their most important game ever. The magnificent player, who I label as the 8th Wonder of the World, set the Argentina career scoring record with that free kick as he squashed the USMNT’s championship dreams. I give it up to you Leo Messi for your otherworldly performance.
I could shift the blame on this heartbreaking night to Mr. Wondolowski pretty easily. Although it was not as devastating as when he missed a wide-open goal against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup, his foul on Messi is high on the list of Chris’ worst blunders. Lionel Messi is a heart-snatcher on the pitch and when you give him a chance to bury your team into the ground, he takes advantage of those opportunities. Chris Wondolowski should have known his role and allowed his defense to stop Messi outside of the penalty box instead of bailing him out. I may also be just as inclined to condemn the indecisiveness of Brad Guzan at the beginning of the game that led to an Ezequiel Lavezzi goal. Guzan put himself in the figurative “no man’s land” as Argentina seemed to catch him off-guard with their graceful passing. Instead of holding his line and relying on his goal line reactions, or chasing the path of the cross until he could catch it, Guzan chose neither of these scenarios and was in a horrible position to defend. As a result, Lavezzi easily headed a beautifully placed ball by Messi over Guzan and into the back of the net. These were huge mishaps by a USA team that was already behind the 8-ball before the game started, but none of these factors matter in the long haul as Argentina was going to win this game anyways due to their dominance and their poise.
Former USA football star and current Fox analyst Landon Donovan pointed out during the game that it didn’t matter if USA lost 2-0 or 6-0, they just needed to pressure Argentina and force them into bad passes. Unfortunately, no matter how high the line was moved up, Klinsmann’s squad was unable to force ill-advised decisions from their opposition. The United States had no chance to win this game because Argentina had the ball 68% of the time throughout the course of the game. The eloquence of Gerardo Martino’s team passing and their systematic destruction of the USA’s defense led to this possession advantage. The fluidity of Argentina’s ball movement and the awareness of their players to run to open spaces made it an impossible task for the US to halt. On top of this advantage, USA captain Michael Bradley kept on giving the ball back to the other side with his bad reads and terrible passes. It was also an arduous task to slow down an Argentina squad that has had a 46% percent shots on target rate this tournament and has capitalized on 56% of these opportunities coming into the game. Argentina’s 11 shots and 7 goals on this game easily stands tall over USA’s zero shots, which goes to show the improvements that need to be made if the USMNT expect to compete at a high level in the 2018 World Cup. There has to be more consistency in their sets, more value for possession of the ball, and a greater awareness of who the opponent is and how to expose their weaknesses. I guess for now, it will be a dreadful two year wait for USA fans until another chance is provided to prove themselves worthy of playing against elite company.
In the end, one man reigned supreme above all others on the pitch and his name is Lionel Messi. It seems fitting that only a couple of days after the best basketball player in the world won a championship, the best football player in the world secured a spot in the finals. Although I was rooting for the US to compete and win a game that could boost their international respectability, I could not help but marvel at the greatness of the Argentinian forward. The only two glaring negatives of the night for Messi were his missed chip pass to Marcos Rojo and DeAndre Yedlin beating him in a foot race. Besides those two missed opportunities, Lionel Messi was at the top of his game. The ball seems to be magnetized to his feet as he controls the tempo of the game due to his ability to change speed in an instance. Messi is composed under pressure and the presence of multiple defenders does not seem to faze him at all. A legitimate argument could be made that Leo actually feeds off of this pressure and elevates his proficiency under such duress. He is never rattled by lost possessions (even though they occur few and far between) and simply moves on because he knows how much his group relies on him to produce at the highest level possible. In the end, one team in the Copa América semifinal had the greatest player in the world on Tuesday night and the other team did not possess such a luxury.
Featured Image is courtesy of David J. Phillip of the Associated Press
All stats are courtesy of ESPNFC.com
Author’s Note: Please do not attempt what this fan did. It is dangerous and presents security risks.