HOUSTON -- The US men’s national team have ridden waves of confidence deep into tournaments before.
They did it at the 2002 World Cup and reached the quarterfinals — perhaps the best showing in US Soccer history. They rode it at the 2009 Confederations Cup and reached the final — arguably the second best showing in the current era.
In both those instances, the US punched above their weight — defeating pre-tournament heavyweights Portugal in the group stage and beating rival Mexico in the Round of 16 in 2002 and snapping Spain’s 35-game unbeaten streak in 2009.
The US are riding another wave of confidence at the Copa America Centenario, winning their last three matches to advance out of Group A before topping Ecuador 2-1 in the quarterfinals on Thursday. They’ve already hit manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s pre-tournament goal of reaching the semifinals, and they’ll play for a place in the final against the winner of Saturday's Argentina-Venezuela quarterfinal on Tuesday in Houston.
The US’s success has started from the backline. Center backs John Brooks and Geoff Cameron have looked particularly strong, starting every match at the tournament and playing a major role as the US have conceded only three times in four games and not once from the run of play.
“We’re confident. We’ve built a pretty good relationship,” Cameron said on Saturday before the team’s first practice in Houston. “Since the beginning of camp we’ve been paired together and we have a pretty good understanding and we have to keep it going.”
Cameron, who played with the Houston Dynamo from 2008 until he left for English Premier League club Stoke City in 2012, noted that the team has improved every single game.
DeAndre Yedlin, who’ll be back for Tuesday’s game after serving a one-game suspension against Ecuador on Thursday, is another reason for that. The right back praised Klinsmann for the faith he placed in him — especially when he was riding the bench while on-loan at Sunderland early in the last Premier League season.
“He’s always shown a big belief in me and I think that’s what he does with the team as well,” said Yedlin. “He’s shows belief in the team and it gives us all confidence that we can win this thing.”
If the US are to move past Tuesday’s semifinal, they’ll have to do it without a trio of players who have started all four of their previous matches at the tournament. Midfielders Jermaine Jones (red card) and Alejandro Bedoya (yellow card accumulation) and forward Bobby Wood (yellow card accumulation) will all be suspended for Tuesday’s match after running into disciplinary issues against Ecuador.
Kyle Beckerman, who came in for the final minutes of Thursday’s match, is a candidate to start on Tuesday due to the suspensions. The Real Salt Lake captain and the rest of his US teammates will face either the tournament favorite in Argentina or, should Venezuela win on Saturday, a team who will be riding incredibly high.
Either way, the US will be prepared — and confident.
“It’s gonna be a tough game of course,” said Beckerman. “But we’re not coming to just play in the competition. We want to win, and we believe we can.”