Well, we can’t say we didn’t see that as a possibility.
Going into the game we knew a few things had to happen for the USMNT to stand a chance against the best team in the world. First, the line up had to be right. With the suspension of three first team players it was obvious this wasn’t going to happen. With the injury of Jozy Altidore the USMNT were left with no good options up top. Either play a player in Chris Wondolowski that fit the role, but wasn’t good enough to compete, or fit a square peg in a round hole with Dempsey playing the 9 role where he isn’t most efficient. Klinsmann opted for the former and Wondo was pulled at halftime. And rightfully so. It was not a good showing for Wondo and is further proof it is time to move on from Wondo with the national team.
The decision to start Kyle Beckerman has taken some heat, but I would contend that was the right decision. The reaction is that he wasn’t fast enough to play against Argentina. The US was going to have to sit deep and fend off ridiculous amounts of possession and pick their moments to break out and try to strike on the counter. With that strategy in mind, Beckerman would have been fine in that role since he would have been sitting deep most of the game. Giving up a goal so early completely ruined that strategy though. From that moment on, the lineup was doomed to failure. Klinsmann rolled the dice on a strategy and lost.
Secondly, the USMNT knew that they had to get good performances from their best players. Due to the early goal, Argentina never got in a position that they had to commit numbers forward, which meant Zardes and Dempsey never had the opportunity to take advantage going forward. Dempsey and Zardes spent the entire night trying to press high and force Argentina to actually play soccer. Not a fun night.
Fabian Johnson was another one of the USMNT stars that came up short against Argentina. His passing was woeful and his clearances weren’t good enough. The first goal came off a failed clearance that ended up at the feet of the best player in the world about 30 yards from goal. Maybe it was playing a full tournament in a position that he doesn’t normally play, but it wasn’t a good showing from a player most see as one of the better players on the roster.
All tournament I’ve had no idea how to approach Michael Bradley’s play. He’s been a rock for the red, white, and blue for so many years now. No matter what is going on around the team he is always right there with strong performances, leading the way both on and off the field. This tournament was so far from what we’ve grown accustomed to from him. Not only did he fail to take control of games from his deep lying role, he was actually a liability. There were multiple games that his wayward passing resulted in giveaways in bad positions and directly resulted to goals or dangerous chances. His lack of cover on a forward run by Geoff Cameron against Paraguay gifted them a 3 v 1 that was saved by a great tackle by John Brooks. After each game I was left thinking “there’s no way he has a game like that again this tournament.” Then he would go out and have another poor performance. Is it the move back to MLS that has dipped his form? Is there an injury that he’s carrying? No time off in how many years because of USMNT duty over the offseason? Whatever it is, Bradley is at the point he needs to press the reset button and figure out how to return to his best form, because the USMNT can only reach their highest of highs with him playing his best.
Lastly, the USMNT needed to frustrate Argentina and knock them off their game. Giving up an early goal was the absolute worst thing that could have happened. As soon as Argentina got out on the front foot, they never looked back. As the USMNT was forced to press the game Messi was able to find pockets of space and take advantage. He was given one free kick in a dangerous area and he took full advantage of it. When Messi is playing at his best he is a joy to watch. Unfortunately, he was at his best against the USMNT.
In the end, the USMNT lost to the best team in the tournament. It would have been nice to see a bit more of a performance from the USMNT, but these types of loses are much more understandable against a team of Argentina’s stature. There are plenty of positives the USMNT can take from this tournament, and we’ll have further coverage on that next week, but Tuesday night belonged to Argentina. Best of luck to them in the final.