None of that scares the US national team.
The USMNT will take on Leo Messi and Argentina in the Copa America semifinals in Houston on Tuesday (9 pm ET; FS1, Univision, UDN). Argentina have been the team of the tournament thus far, posting a perfect 4-0-0 record and outscoring the opposition 14-2.
Runners-up at the 2015 Copa America and 2014 World Cup, Argentina will be the toughest test the US have faced all tournament. Captain Michael Bradley and his USMNT teammates know that, and understand they’ll have their work cut out for them to make it difficult for La Albiceleste on Tuesday night.
“It’s a very good team, we all understand that,” Bradley said. “But there’s been plenty of examples over the last few years of teams that on a given day are so committed mentally, physically to doing whatever it takes to make it hard on a given team that on paper have more going forward than they do, and in the end are able to make it a very difficult day and come out on top.
“And so that’s what we’ll do. We’ll have a group of guys on the field who are so committed to making the game hard on Argentina, to not giving them too much respect and really trying to play the game in a big way.”
Bradley has some experience making things tough against world-class opposition in a US uniform. The Toronto FC midfielder was part of the US team that shocked then-world-No. 1 Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals back in 2009, a huge upset that featured opportunistic attacking, resolute defending and outstanding goalkeeping by the US.
Like the current Argentina side, that Spain team had plenty of star power. They didn’t have a player quite like Leo Messi, however. Argentina’s captain has been outstanding in limited playing time this tournament. Despite starting just once and only playing 164 total minutes, Messi is second in the Copa America with four goals and has two assists.
He dominated Argentina’s quarterfinal win against Venezuela on Saturday, notching a goal and two assists in La Albiceleste’s 4-1 win at Gillette Stadium. It’ll take a stout effort from the entire US defense to prevent a repeat performance on Tuesday.
“I don’t know if you can stop Messi,” said US defender Matt Besler. “I mean obviously there’s going to be a lot of attention around him, there always is. But it’s a group effort when you’re playing a guy like him, it’s not just one guy. You always have to know where he’s at on the field. At the same time, we have to play our game. You can’t focus too much about the opponent, you have to go out and do the things that you do well as a team.”