With one win between them and a major tournament final, the United States Men’s Soccer team is on a potentially historic run at Copa America Centenario. But in order to get to East Rutherford and the Copa America final, the U.S. will have to get past the No. 1 team in the world –- Argentina.
The teams are set to tangle tonight in Houston. Here are a couple of things to keep an eye on with kickoff set for 6 p.m.
The United States hasn’t fared very well against Argentina. Since 1928, the U.S. has faced Argentina 13 times with a 2-8-3 record and has been outscored 37-11 in those games.
However, the U.S. does have a Copa America victory against Argentina. Back in 1995, the United States beat La Albiceleste, 3-0. The U.S. scored goals from former San Jose Earthquakes general manager Alexis Lalas, and former San Jose Clash forward Eric Wynalda and Frank Klopas.
The last U.S. victory over Argentina came in 1999 – a 1-0 win in Washington D.C. The United States last lost a Copa America match to Argentina in 2007 by a 4-1 result.
Argentina is a monster task and the U.S. made it more difficult when Jermaine Jones. Alejandro Bedoya and Bobby Wood picked up caution cards in its latest win that rendered them suspended for Tuesday’s match.
Wood and Bedodya are out after accumulating too many yellow cards while Jones saw a straight red card in the match against Paraguay and will serve the mandatory one-game suspension that comes with it.
With Jones and Bedoya out in the midfield, Jurgen Klinsmann can go a variety of ways –- with Kyle Beckerman or Graham Zusi being the most logical possibilities. Without Wood, Gyasi Zardes might get bumped up top with Clint Dempsey and that moves someone like Darlington Nagbe or Christian Pulisic into the starting lineup out wide. San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski is also a possibility as more of a holding forward up top for the U.S.
Argentina was the only team during the group stage to collect all nine possible points. They outscored their opponents 10-1 in those matches. Argentina remains the No. 1 team in the FIFA World Rankings and has looked near unstoppable at times. With so many offensive weapons, the U.S. will have plenty to worry about during the semifinal match.
The task isn’t just a defensive one for the U.S. Argentina’s defense has been terrific in Copa America as well. In four matches, Argentina has given up just one goal during Copa America – least amongst all 16 tournament teams.
Messi came into Copa America with injuries concerns but has played brilliantly despite limited minutes. The Argentinian striker is second in the tournament with four goals -- that's good for second amongst all scorers. He is the United States’ most pressing defensive concern and without the help of Jones in the midfield, the task of containing Messi is much more difficult.
The United States' defense has played well during Copa America, allowing just three goals in four matches. Expect the U.S. central defense (Michael Bradley, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron) to be tested often on Tuesday with Messi looking to exploit all that attention by getting Argentina’s embarrassment of offensive riches involved.
With his next goal, Messi becomes Argentina's all-time leading goal scorer.
A huge reason why the U.S. is in a position to make history has been the play of Dempsey. The United States forward leads the team in goals with three and assists with three.
Dempsey has done a great job of feeding off the speed of Wood and Zardes during the four Copa America matches. With Wood out, it’ll be interesting to observe what his absence does for Dempsey’s rhythm. The United States will need Dempsey to lead a valiant attack and put in heavy work on the defensive end as well.
With a U.S. win, Dempsey could catapult himself to the top of the Player of Tournament conversation.