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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

June 20, 2016
USA's Copa run has the spirit of '02

Bruce Arena directed the USMNT into the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
Bruce Arena directed the USMNT into the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

Pardon me if I have a deja vu feeling all over again about the United States going deep in a major soccer competition.

In many respects, it reminds me of what the red, white and blue accomplished at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. They were in a difficult group and weren't expected to accomplish much on the other side of the world.

Yet, the Americans reached the quarterfinals before meeting their match in a 1-0 quarterfinal loss to eventual finalist Germany in a match that was decided by a non-handball call on German defender Torsten Frings on a Gregg Berhalter shot.

Give a lot of credit to USA head coach Bruce Arena, who was forced to mix and match a lineup on the fly as he worked with a roster decimated by injuries and suspensions and fatigue. And give credit to a hardy band of brothers who worked hard for one another against the odds.

Now, does that sound familiar?

It sure does.

Fast forward to the 2016 Copa America Centenario, a tournament in which the USA is facing similar circumstances without three starters.

Hmmm, let's give credit to head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who against his reputation of flipping his lineups faster than most people can flip houses, kept the same Starting XI together for the first time in 86 years of U.S. Soccer history -- or when the Americans participated in the first World Cup.

Listen, the details and the tournament aren't exactly the same, but they're close enough to understand the USA's resolve in both competitions.

They did not care what the outside world thought of them because all that mattered was on the field.

In 2002, the Americans surprising grabbed an early three-goal lead against favored Portugal in its group opener and managed to hold for a 3-2 win. They tied co-host South Korea in their next match, 1-1, no mean feat considering the Koreans enjoyed their greatest World Cup success, reaching the semis. And then they lost to Poland in their final group match, 3-1, but managed to move on as Portugal lost to Korea in its last match, 1-0.

In contrast, the USA lost its Copa opener to heavily favored and third-ranked Colombia, 2-0, and the expectations dropped like a lead soccer ball. The hosts rebounded with a scintillating 4-0 romp over Costa Rica and grinded out a 1-0 win over Paraguay.

OK, let's beyond the group stage.

In 2002, the USA continued its dos a cero wins with Mexico in the Round of 16.

With defenders Jeff Agoos (calf injury) and Frankie Hejduk (yellow card accumulation) and several players hurting with lesser ailments, Arena put together a team that continued the tradition of dos a cero against El Tri before it was eliminated by Germany in the quarterfinals. He deployed a 3-5-2 formation that gave Berhalter, midfielder Eddie Lewis and forward Josh Wolff their first starts of the competition. Now, how often do three players get their first starts of an international competition in the Round of 16.

In this year's quarterfinals (there was no Round of 16 in this tournament), the Americans were impressive, showing two sides of their game. They dominated the first half, with one of their best, if not the best 45 minutes of the year, and then demonstrated their grit and determination to close out the game in the final half.

In some respects, the USA's 2-1 win over Ecuador Thursday night turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory as the Americans lost not one, not two, but three players for Tuesday's semifinal.

Without going into detail, midfielder Jermaine Jones (a straight red card), forward Bobby Wood (two yellows for a red) and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (yellow-card accumulation).

That left Klinsmann with three big holes to fill. Beckerman is expected to take Jones' place. The USA head coach might have to mix and match to get the right combination. If he doesn't want to use veteran Chris Wondolowski or 17-year-old Christian Pulisic as starting forwards, Klinsmann could revert to a 4-4-2 with the remarkable Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes partnering up front. Gut feeling is that Graham Zusi will start in Bedoya's place, even though the Sporting Kansas City is more comfortable on the other flank.

Center back John Brooks, who was in pain after landing on his right shoulder in the first half against Ecuador, played the rest of the match. Until we hear otherwise, we'll assume he will be healthy enough to play against Argentina.

And about that 2002 match ...

JEONJU, South Korea -- When the U.S. National Team takes on Mexico, the sides usually find themselves in a rut.

When the Americans host they usually win. When the Mexicans play at home, they almost always to prevail.

So, to determine which team is better would take a neutral site. Some 14 years ago one was found -- in a rare CONCACAF confrontation in the second round of the 2002 World Cup.

In this encounter, the United States stunned Mexico, 2-0 -- another in those dos a cero matches -- in the most important match of the 82-year rivalry between the two countries. Brian McBride and Landon Donovan scored goals on June 17, 2002 to propel the Americans into the quarterfinals against Germany.

The win also was significant in that it was the first time the Americans won a single-elimination game in World Cup history. It also was the USA's first World Cup shutout since a 1-0 upset of England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

It was tough getting our guys back from the game on Friday," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said, referring to a 3-1 loss to Poland. "We had to go with a lineup that made sense for our guys to endure over 90-95 minutes. Our guys left everything on the field today. They played great; Im proud of them. Its a great day for U.S. Soccer.

The U.S. has won five of the last six matches against the Mexicans and improved to 10-28-9 all-time against El Tri. The U.S. also defeated Mexico earlier that year, a 1-0 win in Denver on April 3.

Missing two starters defenders Jeff Agoos (calf injury) and Frankie Hejduk (yellow card accumulation) from the loss to Poland, the U.S. began the match with a 3-5-2 formation that allowed defender Gregg Berhalter, midfielder Eddie Lewis and forward Josh Wolff to get their first starts of the World Cup.

"Well, it was a hard-fought match," Arena said. "We were coming off a disappointing loss, in the last game we played against Poland. We had a short period of time to rest. We needed to get our guys to get ready to play, come up with the game plan, allow them to endure for over 90 minutes. Our guys executed it beautifully, played well against a great Mexican team, who has impressed everyone at the World Cup so far."

The game was a physical affair as referee Vitor Melo Pereira (Portugal) handed out 10 yellow cards -- five to each team -- and one red card -- to Mexico's and future Red Bull Rafael Marquez in the 88th minute for head-butting Cobi Jones in the waning minutes.

"It's a rivalry," Arena said. "We know each other. There's been a lot of bad blood over the years."

Asked if he thought the U.S. was lucky, Arena replied, "I don't know if we were lucky. We beat the group winner of the group with Italy. We beat one of the top five teams in the world. . . . Then we got a point with Korea, the host country, which no one else has been able to do. We've had some impressive results in this World Cup. I wouldn't call that lucky, I think we have a good team. We will prove that we have one of the great teams in the world with Germany."

The U.S. struck first to establish an early lead. A quick combination play started on the right flank with U.S. captain and midfielder Claudio Reyna, who raced down the right flank, beat a defender and dribbled toward the end line to draw two more defenders. Reyna laid the ball off to Wolff at the corner of the six-yard box. Wolff tapped the ball back to an unmarked McBride in the middle of the box, where he blasted a shot through three lunging defenders and past airborne goalkeeper Oscar Perez in the eighth minute.

"It was such a great feeling to get a goal so early in the game and put the pressure on them," Reyna said. "They had to step it up a notch and I think they exerted a lot of energy to get one back."

With Mexico continuing to own the majority of possession in the second half, it took a counterattack for the U.S. to increase its lead to 2-0. Reyna started the play in the U.S. half, sending a looping long ball to the left flank, where Lewis made a run. Lewis gathered the ball before sending a perfect cross to the far post, where Donovan snuck behind two Mexican defenders and nodded home a header past Perez in the 65th minute.

The lineups:

United States: Brad Friedel; Gregg Berhalter, Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh; Pablo Mastroeni (Carlos Llamosa, 92), Eddie Lewis, Claudio Reyna, John OBrien, Landon Donovan; Brian McBride (Cobi Jones, 79), Josh Wolff (Earnie Stewart, 59).

Mexico: Oscar Perez; Salvador Carmona, Rafael Marquez, Manuel Vidrio (Sigifredo Mercado, 46); Ramon Morales (Luis Hernandez, 28), Braulio Luna, Joahan Rodriguez, Gerardo Torrado (Alberto Garcia Aspe, 78), Jesus Arellano; Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Jared Borgetti.
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