Story time: I was talking to my in-laws on the day of the Mexico-Uruguay Copa America game about the U.S. Men's National Team's Copa-opening loss to Colombia. I told them how before the game, the dominant narrative was that the U.S. could really make waves and yes, that included beating Colombia, who just didn't seem that great this tournament, at least heading into it.
Then, of course, Colombia bossed the U.S. 2-0, and the narrative instantly turned to "Well, look, Colombia is the third-best team in the world, ok? That's almost impossible for the U.S. to beat them."
My in-laws, not U.S. fans, laughed and laughed at the instant about-face. And in the run-up to tonight's crucial quarterfinal in the Copa America Centenario, between the U.S. and Ecuador in Seattle (6:30 pm PT, FS1, UniMás, UDN), I see the opposite narrative being constructed: Watch out, U.S., because Ecuador is really good.
I have long admired and followed this Ecuadorian National Team, and have waited for them to make waves on the international stage for years. They have talent, no question, and the U.S. can certainly not take Ecuador lightly, because they are a team that is accustomed to the crucible of South American soccer, where every game is a grudge match with dire consequences.
Despite that, they are habitual underachievers in the Copa America. Yes, they should have won the group had they been correctly given a goal against Brazil that was waived off. But this is the first time they advanced to the knockout stage in seven Copa América tournaments. And yet, they qualified for three World Cups in that same span.
In contrast, the U.S. don't have the weight of history on them. They beat an understrength Ecuador, yes, in a pre-Copa friendly, only with Darlington Nagbe's last-minute heroics, but beat them they did. This game is likely to be tight and probably won't feature a ton of goals, but despite the protestations, this is a game the U.S. can and should win.
I think the stories circulating about how good Ecuador is largely serve two purposes: informing more casual fans that while Ecuador isn't a powerhouse, they also aren't chopped liver, and preemptively setting the context for a U.S. loss. I don't think it's entirely conscious, but there's a bit of trying to avoid the confidence ahead of the Colombia game by taking a far more somber look at the Americans' chances.
But this is not the U.S. vs. Argentina, needing to have their best day ever and have the best gameplan possible in order to even have a chance. It is entirely within the USMNT's power to play their game and beat Ecuador, without having to pray to the soccer gods the best five players on the other team twist their ankles.
Truthfully, the winner of this game will likely have a brutal semifinal awaiting them, and this is effectively the tournament for both sides. Will the hosts step up, or wilt under the pressure? This is about as good as it gets for the U.S. in a knockout match-up at the Copa América, so they need to take advantage of the opportunity and win a very winnable match.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!