The U.S. reached the Copa America semifinals. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Argentina-Venezuela match. They will do so without three critical, suspended players..
Midfielder Jermaine Jones received a red card against Ecuador. Both forward Bobby Wood and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya picked up second yellow cards. All three have played pivotal roles.
Jones rebounded from a rough first match. The 34-year-old has covered ground box-to-box and has put through decisive balls in the final third. Bedoya has been the soccer equivalent of the “glue guy,” putting in strong, tireless shifts in midfield.
Wood has had a breakout tournament since being played through the middle. He was a menace against Ecuador. Clint Dempsey’s resurgence has resulted from the space Wood has created. Both U.S. goals last night began with Wood’s penetration (the double entendres are unavoidable). He has gone from wildcard from a lower European division to a player outclassing his teammates.
Jurgen Klinsmann must replace all three of them (presuming appeals for Wood and Jones aren’t successful). We’d imagine Klinsmann opts for continuity. The 4-4-2 has been getting the most out of Clint Dempsey. Getting the most out of Clint Dempsey gives the U.S. the best chance of winning. The inimitable Deuce has been involved in all but one U.S. goal this tournament.
Gyasi Zardes probably starts in Wood’s place up front. Zardes does not score much. He has an oft-maligned first touch. But, he does have pace and he can make similar runs to Wood to open up space for Dempsey. His speed gives the opponent more to react to than Chris Wondolowski.
Kyle Beckerman should take Jones’ place in central midfield, with him dropping deeper and Bradley pushing forward a bit more into a dual role. Beckerman is the same age and has the same haircut. More importantly, despite his physical limitations, he’s smart, crafty, and can do a more credible job protecting the back four than alternatives. He has 50 more caps than Perry Kitchen.
If Zardes moves forward, Klinsmann has to replace both wingers. He doesn’t have precise options, but he has some versatility to work with. Graham Zusi should start. He has the technical ability and will help the U.S. on set pieces (which may be the only opportunities against Argentina). Klinsmann has stuck with Zusi and he has been a preferred option off the bench this tournament.
For the other replacement, Klinsmann probably has to break up the back four, which has been playing well. Besler staying in the starting XI at left back from the Ecuador match isn’t ideal but makes sense. Yedlin can move back in at right back. Fabian Johnson, a midfielder at club level, can then slot forward on one of the wings.
Nagbe isn’t an ideal fit. He’s better centrally. Starting on the wing with defensive responsibilities against Argentina may be too much to ask of young Pulisic.
Here is a top, top quality visual of how we see the U.S. Starting XI shaping out. Is it a lineup that could beat Argentina? If Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Gonzalo Higuain have sights as off as Enner Valencia’s last night, perhaps.