SEATTLE – Before the start of this year’s Copa America Centenario, US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said that advancing to the tournament’s semifinals should be his squad’s baseline expectation.
Consider that mission accomplished following the USMNT’s nail-biting 2-1 quarterfinal triumph over Ecuador at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Thursday – a victory that Klinsmann says carries extra symbolic weight considering the magnitude of the stage and the quality of the opponent.
The US topped an Ecuador squad that is currently FIFA’s 13th-ranked team in the world and one that boasted one of the more dynamic attacking corps in the tournament.
“That team is damn good,” Klinsmann told reporters at his postgame press conference. “This team is leading World Cup qualifying in South America. It was not by accident that they put us into difficulties the last 15-20 minutes because this is one of the top teams in the world.”
The US benefitted from another standout performance from Clint Dempsey, who continued his strong run of form with a headed goal off a Jermaine Jones cross in the 22nd minute -- his third of the tournament.
Dempsey also added an assist on the USMNT’s second goal on a cross to Gyasi Zardes in the 65th minute, more validation for the 33-year-old Seattle Sounders star, who had seen his starting status with the national team come into question in the days leading up to the tournament.
“Clint is special,” Klinsmann said. “He’s showed that in the last couple weeks and he’s showed that through his entire career. He’s right there where he should be and this performance tonight from him was unbelievable.”
Thursday’s performance certainly was not without its share of theatrics for the US, namely a double red card that saw Jones and Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia each sent off in the 52nd minute, as well as a rocket goal from Ecuador’s Michael Arroyo in the 74th minute that cut the US lead to 2-1.
Klinsmann said that his team’s response to those adverse circumstances was biggest takeaway from Thursday’s result – particularly from his younger players.
“Our program is maturing,” Klinsmann said. “Our players are maturing, they are learning with every game we can play in this type of an environment…We brought a few youngsters with along the way the last two years and they made a huge step forward tonight. They deserve this win.”