May 25, 2016
Youngsters make difference as U.S. edges Ecuador
FRISCO, Texas -- The U.S. left it to the youngsters to make the difference in a 1-0 victory over Ecuador before a crowd of 9,893 at Toyota Stadium Wednesday night.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has selected a veteran team for Copa America Centenario, and went with an experienced lineup in this match. But the game seemed headed for a scoreless deadlock until Darlington Nagbe and 17-year-old Christian Pulisic injected life in the U.S. attack in the late-going.
Nagbe, playing his fourth game for the U.S., scored his first national team goal in the 90th minute, slamming in a shot from close range past substitute goalkeeper Esteban Dreer. Nagbe, 25, turned out to be the old-timer of the scoring combination, which included right back DeAndre Yedlin, 23, and Bobby Wood, 22.
For much of the game, the teams competed as if this were the actual Copa America Centenario, and not just a warmup. There were tactical fouls, some hard tackling, compact defending, four yellow cards issued in the opening half – a preview of group stage matches, which will start next week.
Ecuador produced most of the scoring chances.
In the first minute, Enner Valencia whiffed off a Miller Bolaños feed. Swansea City forward Jefferson Monteiro broke down the left side several times, his deflected left-foot cross knocked away by Brad Guzan for a corner in the seventh minute. A minute later, Guzan came out past the penalty arc to clear with Bolaños on the verge of going in alone.
The U.S. defense soon recovered, John Brooks made a sliding tackle on Valencia, Ecuador earning a corner in the 14th minute. In the 17th minute, Monteiro went past Jermaine Jones and Yedlin, his cross stopped by Guzan.
The U.S. failed to threaten for most of the first half. Gyasi Zardes won a free kick, Clint Dempsey firing high from 30 yards in the 23rd minute. Jermaine Jones was cautioned by Mexican referee Jose Alfredo Peñaloza in the 26th minute, stopping an Ecuador breakaway off a Yedlin giveaway.
Dempsey scooped a pass to send Zardes in on goal, but the ball went off Zardes’ shin and Alexander Dominguez advanced to make the stop in the 30th minute. Cristian Ramirez earned Ecuador’s second caution for a foul on Graham Zusi in the 35th minute.
Brooks surrendered another corner in the 39th minute, cutting out a cross in front of Valencia near the penalty spot. Angel Mena earned the third Ecuador caution after taking down Fabian Johnson in the 45th minute.
Dominguez appeared to be injured while grabbing Michael Bradley’s free kick in first half injury time, and was replaced by Dreer after halftime.
The U.S. added Nagbe and Wood in place of Kyle Beckerman and Zardes after halftime, and started the second half playing a patient passing game. Wood earned a corner in the 48th minute, but Steve Birnbaum struggled to connect with Bradley’s cross. Ecuador threatened seconds later, but Bradley recovered to stop Mena on a breakaway.
Ecuador lost FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo to injury in the 58th minute. And the U.S. soon began to gain momentum.
Jones launched a drive from 30 yards that was grabbed by Dreer in the 59th minute. Nagbe started a sequence that continued with a Dempsey volley that was blocked, Bradley firing the rebound high in the 60th minute.
In the 63rd minute, Pulisic entered in place of Dempsey, then Alejandro Bedoya replaced Jones. Ecuador sent in Club America’s Michael Arroyo in place of Monteiro in the 64th minute.
Pulisic soon began making an impact. In the 71st minute, Pulisic threatened near the end line on the left, then re-started the attack, the U.S. nearly scoring. Graham Zusi crossed from the left, Bedoya sending a shot through the goal box, past Dreer and Pulisic. In the 75th minute, Pulisic threatened again, his deflected cross going to Wood, who got off an off-balance attempt.
But Ecuador soon adjusted and held off the U.S. Then Valencia drove through on the right, his cross cleared by Yedlin in the 84th minute.
The U.S. continued to threaten on the wings. On the deciding sequence, Yedlin went forward on the right, froze the defense, went around Ramirez, then crossed. Juan Paredes failed to clear, heading toward Wood, who outjumped Robert Arboleda to head to Nagbe, who controlled off his chest and volleyed in from point blank range.
Ecuador earned a free kick five minutes into stoppage time, but Arroyo sent the shot high just before the final whistle.