The Copa America Centenario quarterfinals are set to begin in an hour, and it's a quarterfinal matchup that most fans of the United States thought would come about in a slightly different manner. Most assumed the USMNT would finish 2nd in Group A to Colombia and end up playing against Brazil in New Jersey tomorrow. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the Meadowlands: Costa Rica beat Colombia to give the USMNT the Group A crown, while Brazil lost controversially to Peru, making Peru the Group B winners and sending both the United States and Ecuador to Seattle to do battle. So, here we are, the quarterfinal that most thought would not happen is upon us in an hour's time, and the U.S. are facing a familiar opponent in La Tricolor. The teams last squared off on May 25th in Frisco, Texas, with the U.S. edging Ecuador 1-0 behind a 90th goal by Darlington Nagbe, his first goal for the national team.
Ecuador has improved since it last faced the USMNT. It probably should have beat Brazil, but a goal was controversially waved off that would have given La Tri the edge. The last time we saw them was on Sunday giving Haiti a thorough shellacking, solidifying their place in the quarterfinals as the runner-up in Group B.
As a friendly reminder, the Copa America quarterfinals and semifinals will proceed directly to a penalty shootout should the game be tied after 90 minutes. The winner of this match will proceed to Houston to face the winner of Venezuela-Argentina in the semifinals. These two teams do have the toughest road to the final on June 26th, but tonight, they will be looking to just make reservations for a date at NRG Stadium on June 21st.
United States starting 11:
Here is the #USMNT Starting XI for #USAvECU. @MattBesler makes his #CopaAmerica debut: https://t.co/0Nry5hhsB2 pic.twitter.com/ZgW3ZbRuJU— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 17, 2016
Ecuador starting 11:
[COPA AMÉRICA] Este es el 11 de Ecuador para enfrentar a USA por cuartos de final de @CA2016 #FuerzaTricolor pic.twitter.com/5p4uPX3y3A— F.E.F. (@FEFecuador) June 17, 2016
Match previews: Our preview notes that due to DeAndre Yedlin's two yellow cards and subsequent red card against Paraguay, the USMNT will have a different lineup for the first time in four matches. Over at Stars and Stripes FC, they opine that Michael Orozco will slide into Yedlin's position out wide and draw the assignment of stopping Ecuador's Jefferson Montero. Enner Valencia is the Ecuadorian engine on the attack, leading the team in shots and goals. One will probably expect the U.S. to attempt to push Montero, Enner Valencia and Antonio Valencia to the outside, where any long balls can be cleared out by the hero of the Paraguay match (and, 2 years ago today, World Cup hero) John Brooks.
To advance to the semifinals, the teams will need to find a way to break down the opposing defense and be able to do it in much cooler temperatures than each have experienced so far in this tournament. With this game being in Seattle, look for Clint Dempsey to thrive on his home field, with Darlington Nagbe making an appearance and using his speed and creativity in a stadium he too is very familiar with. Bobby Wood needs to continue pressing the attack at the very top like he has been doing so well in this tournament, and Jermaine Jones starting the attack from the middle and being the man to lead the breaks. The absolute key to victory is a dominant game from Michael Bradley in the middle. When Bradley is on his game, there's no team in the world that the USMNT can't beat. If he can feed Jones to start breaks and later on have Nagbe as a supersub with his speed, this sets up well for the Americans.
What are you drinking?: I'm going to be at the AODC watch party tonight, where they are doing a raffle to raise money for victims of the shootings in Orlando, so it's going to be PBR and Oskar Blues all night (of course, with a shot or two of Jameson on the side).
Prediction: The United States, with an overwhelmingly pro-U.S. crowd pushing them every step of the way, come out on fire. John Brooks heads home a corner early on, with Dempsey adding to the tally just before halftime in front of his home fans, sending CenturyLink Field into a frenzy. The second half sees Enner Valencia add one back for La Tri, but in the end, a fantastic game by Brad Guzan and a remarkable tandem job by Orozco, Johnson and Geoff Cameron in stopping Montero's speed means that the United States leave Seattle with a 2-1 victory and a place in the Copa America semifinals for the first time since 1995.
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