So you're telling me that players with the resumes of Kyle Beckerman, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron get intimidated by Argentina? Or that they're star-struck by the Argentine national team jersey?
"Please don't make it out to be anything like that," said Bradley, the US captain, when approached postgame with his coach's theory that the USA showed too much respect for Argentina.
Yes, it may have LOOKED LIKE the USA were cowering in front of the 14-time Copa America champs. But that's because the Americans didn't put out a lineup that gave them a chance.
"You were trying to scream into the field, saying 'Go at them. Go. Become physical. Just step on their toes,'" Klinsmann said in the postgame.
That's the quick fix? Step on Messi's toes?
Actually, I don't doubt that must have been the plan. When you sat down to attempt to make sense of the USA's starting XI against Argentina, the only theory you could come up with was this: US manager Jurgen Klinsmann wanted an experienced lineup of hard workers and fighters – people who stepped on toes. The idea must have clearly been for the USA to be doing the intimidating.
Except here's the big issue with a lineup based on intangibles and grit: Fight doesn't buy you goals. Guts don't get you up the field. Feistiness doesn't know how to keep possession.
A Copa America semifinal is not a mind game. It's an actual, competitive match that requires strategy and thought for how you're going to counter the No. 1 team in the world. Heart and spirit just plain don't cut it.
That's a pretty strong statement from US legend Eric Wynalda. But after four matches in which Klinsmann's lineup choices made a lot of sense to a lot of people, Tuesday's left many scratching their heads.
Going into this match, everyone knew that the Argentina back line was the team's Achilles' heel and the entire USMNT fan base was on board with one point: The USA needed speed up top to get in behind the Albiceleste back four. And without the suspended Bobby Wood, it was necessary to move the LA Galaxy's Gyasi Zardes up top from his usual right wing spot. At least that was the argument made before the match:
Not only did Zardes NOT play up top, but he essentially served as a second right back and barely factored into the attack (and when he did, he created the one real dangerous chance on the night). Forward Chris Wondolowski, who got the start at striker instead, has a different skill set, for a different type of game.
The other move that seemed obvious to everyone in the lead-up was that Portland's Darlington Nagbe had to get into the game from the start. It seemed like a given. He was already the best possession player the US had even before the various suspensions to the starting midfielders – he's a player who doesn't give up the ball. And yet Nagbe didn't see the field until there were 12 minutes left in the semifinal.
The USA had no possession against Argentina (32.2 percent vs. the South Americans' 67.8 percent). They didn't have a single player who could step on the ball and wriggle out of trouble or draw a foul. And we're wondering why the USA couldn't manage to get a shot off?
Klinsmann somehow arrived at the conclusion that he didn't need Nagbe, who had a 100 percent passing accuracy on the five passes he had time to make on Tuesday night. Unless Nagbe was carrying a knock, his exclusion makes little sense. Forget about the fact that the Timbers man can hold on to the ball. If you watch MLS you already knew that. But he also moves the team between the lines, i.e. from midfield to forward. The US could've used someone capable of doing just that, because they struggled to get out of their own half.
Beckerman and Bradley can win the ball back, but then they need an outlet. They need someone to dish it to. They didn't have those outlets against Argentina – not in midfield and not at forward. Nagbe would've helped. Fabian Johnson's ball skills would've been useful in midfield. Christian Pulisic in the right lineup mix would've lent a hand.
Taking care of the ball through possession – at least more meaningful spells of it – is the one thing you needed to have against an Argentina side that showed in four previous Copa America games how they thrive on capitalizing on the opponent's giveaways. If you can't keep it, they will take it and shove it down your throat.
And so here we are. So many are going to take this 4-0 result and put the US soccer system on trial. Don't waste your time.
There's not a four-goal difference between the USA and Argentina. There's not a 362-pass differential between these two soccer nations. It only looks that way when you're not set up to succeed.
Bradley's right. The 4-0 score line had nothing to do with the Americans having too much respect for Argentina. It was more like the USA having too little of a clue what to do against a great team.