PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Jurgen Klinsmann wants a transformed mentality when the United States opens the knockout phase of the Copa America against Ecuador on Thursday.
“The whole old story is the underdog story, and I cannot hear that story anymore,” the U.S. coach said. “I want to see them risk things. Let’s go for it. Because if you’re not going for it, sooner or later they’re going to break you down.”
After beating Paraguay 1-0 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire second half a man down, the U.S. won Group A on goal difference over Colombia and advanced to a quarterfinal in Seattle. The Americans defeated Ecuador 1-0 in a May 25 exhibition on Darlington Nagbe’s 90th-minute goal.
The Americans still can be timid at times against soccer powers. Although they have won exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands in recent years, they struggled to maintain possession. And when the U.S. played Belgium in the second round of the 2014 World Cup, the Americans extended the game to extra time only because of goalkeeper Tim Howard’s outstanding play.
Klinsmann won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, spending 15 years with high-level clubs.
“Knockout stage is very mental driven,” he said. “It’s when you step on the field and you see certain jerseys, it’s kind of sniffing at each other and saying: ‘I’m ready for you.'”
Aside from the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Americans’ only knockout stage wins in competitive events have been over Mexico in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, against Spain in the semifinals of the 2009 Confederations Cup and over Mexico on penalty kicks in the 1995 Copa America quarterfinals.
They’ve lost World Cup knockout games against Brazil (1994), Germany (2002), Ghana (2010) and Belgium (2014), plus Confederations Cup semifinals versus Saudi Arabia (1992) and Mexico (1999) and a Copa America semifinal against Brazil (1995).
In the 2009 Confederations Cup final, they wasted a two-goal lead in a 3-2 loss to Brazil. (They’re also 1-2 in Confederations Cup third-place matches.)
“What we would love to see is just that they become more confident and courageous to take the game to those big teams and not playing just counter break football,” Klinsmann said.
For the first time since the 1930 World Cup and only the second time ever, the U.S. has started the same 11 players in three consecutive games. That streak will end because right back DeAndre Yedlin is suspended after receiving two yellow cards in a 57-second span against Paraguay starting in the 47th minute.
Yedlin said through the U.S. Soccer Federation on Sunday that the first infraction came on what he thought was “a fair 50-50 tackle” and he was very surprised to receive the yellow card.
On the second play, he said, “I came in too fast and my foot slipped, and it probably looked like I tried to two-foot the guy.”
“This was an understandable yellow,” he added. “It was just unfortunate that there was the call a minute before.”
Yedlin watched the rest of the game from the locker room as his teammates protected the lead with 10 men. He called their performance “unbelievable.”
“It’s tough because if something happened where the team doesn’t go through, I would have put the blame on myself,” he said.
Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, Michael Orozco and Bobby Wood have single yellow cards, and for each of them, another one Thursday would result in a suspension for the semifinal, should the U.S. advance. Orozco is likely to take Yedlin’s spot on the back line.
“I think that we could possibly do something special here,” said Clint Dempsey, who has scored in two straight matches. “So hopefully we keep building upon that and we can get the job done the next game.”
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