US ready for familiar but dangerous foe in quarters: "This is what we want"

SEATTLE – For the US national team, Thursday’s Copa America Centenario quarterfinal matchup with Ecuador (9:30 pm ET; FS1/UniMás/UDN) at CenturyLink Field represents something of a double-edged sword.

On one hand, the fixture pits the US against an Ecuador side that they played in an international friendly at Toyota Stadium in Dallas just three weeks ago – a match that saw the USMNT bag a 1-0 victory.

For the US, the hope is that the familiarity and confidence that comes with playing a recently vanquished foe could pay dividends come Thursday.

“[The friendly] helps to kind of have a good feeling for how good they are,” US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told the media prior to his team’s Tuesday morning training session at Seattle University. “What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?”

However, Klinsmann also cautioned against reading much into the results of the friendly, in part due to the impending return of two key contributors to Ecuador’s starting lineup that didn’t figure into the first matchup: Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia and team captain Walter Ayoví.

“They were not complete when we played them in the friendly,” said Klinsmann. “A couple of very special players were missing.”

The US will now have to contend with the more-than-formidable midfield duo of Valencia and Swansea winger Jefferson Montero, in addition to (unrelated) forward Enner Valencia, who leads Ecuador with two goals and two assists so far in the tournament.

It’s a talented group of attackers that Klinsmann didn’t deny would present a challenge for his backline, which will also be without the services of suspended defender DeAndre Yedlin.

But Klinsmann also says the high-stakes matchup is precisely the challenge the US must learn to embrace for the team to reach the next level.

“[Ecuador] is a good team,” Klinsmann said. “But this is what we want. We want to learn how to beat those teams when it really, really matters in a big competition. I think they have a lot of respect for us.

“That’s what we’re building. We’re building more respect out there…Our players know how to take the game to the opponent and this is the big learning curve that will become even better if we get to the final four.”