HOUSTON – The US national team never doubted Argentina’s pedigree. They never doubted their raw talent, tactical nous or physicality. They never doubted Tuesday night’s Copa America Centenario game would be anything but a steep mountain to climb.
But just because you know how good Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano and the rest of the Albiceleste are doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to deal with their quality once game time comes. That goes for the US, and it goes for just about every team in the world.
Any dreams of an upset the Americans harbored were dashed in the third minute when Ezequiel Lavezzi looped a header over Brad Guzan, as Argentina used their early advantage to pin the US in their own half, rarely letting them breath in a 4-0 win in which the hosts failed to register a single shot.
“You saw tonight why they are the No. 1 team in the world,” head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Got to give a huge compliment to Messi and Higuain and Mascherano and these guys. It’s just top class [the way] they’re playing. I think that’s what the players realized on the field as well. You’ve got to give them huge credit. I told the guys there’s nothing to be ashamed of after the game. You’ve got to move forward. We learn with these games.”
The lesson, for now, was that the US simply aren’t at the same level as their illustrious opponents. They may have won three of five games to make an inspiring run to the semis, but they lost by a combined score of 6-0 to elite sides Colombia and Argentina. Instead of the final, they will now travel to Glendale, Arizona, to take on the loser of Chile and Colombia (Weds., 8 pm ET; FS1/Univision) in the third-place game.
“In the moment, it’s still a big disappointment. Nobody has the mentality that, all of a sudden you get to the semifinal and you’re playing with house money,” captain Michael Bradley said. “It doesn’t work like that. The idea was to take it another step further and to get ourselves into a final. We weren’t able to do that. For that reason, there’s big disappointment. Ultimately, as time goes on a little bit, I think we can take a lot of positives from the tournament. It’s still a little early for that.”
Klinsmann hopes this lesson, as he repeatedly called it, won’t be the first in the near future for his team. It’s not that he wants to see the US be outclassed, it’s that he wants them to be in the position to see where they stand against the world’s elite sides as much as possible.
“The more often we can play these teams, this caliber of teams, the more we’re going to learn,” he said. “The players will be more and more confident to take them on. With some teams, it already happens. Today it didn’t because it was just a number too big for us. This is just a process. Whenever we can get a friendly against Argentina, please do it. With Brazil, please do it. Even if we get lessons here and there.”
They won’t have to wait long for another test close to the caliber of Argentina. Saturday’s third-place game will pit the US against either FIFA No. 3 Colombia or No. 5 in Chile. Still, no matter the result, they’ll undertake that challenge with plenty to draw upon.
“As we said before the game and I said the same after the game in the locker room, they should be proud of themselves,” Klinsmann said. “What they did the last couple of weeks, really proud of themselves. Take that lesson, take that pill and swallow it. Get a day off tomorrow and then we prepare for the third-place game. It’s a huge honor to play this game in Phoenix.”