At least up until this point, U.S. men’s soccer couldn’t have asked for a better scenario over these last few weeks: after losing 2-0 to Colombia in the opener, they have won three straight games (beating Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador) to reach the 2016 Copa America semifinals on their home turf. With that, they are guaranteed two more matches in this tournament against some of the best national teams in the world. Of course now comes the really difficult part as the U.S. takes on Argentina on Tuesday (9, Fox Sports 1) at Houston’s NRG Stadium. The winner of that will take on the winner of Wednesday’s (8, Fox Sports 1) other semifinal-Chile vs. Colombia-on Sunday in the Final with the losers meeting in the third-place game on Saturday.
Argentina looked the part of the No. 1 team as they dispatched Venezuela 4-1 on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. Iconic midfielder Lionel Messi started for the first time in this Copa America and responded with a goal and two assists as he received the Man of the Match award afterwards. This is the fourth time in their last five tournaments (Copa America, World Cup) that Argentina has reached at least the semifinals. As their manager Gerardo Martino said, “we came here (to the United States) with one goal in mind: to win the 2016 Copa America.”
Besides the crowd that should be firmly behind them in Texas (although Argentina’s fans traveled well with 59,183 mostly wearing their colors at Gillette), the other tangible advantage the Americans could have over the Argentines is rest. It’s debatable if it will make much of a difference but the U.S. beat Ecuador 2-1 on Thursday at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field so they have basically two more full days of rest and recovery heading into this showdown. That is probably nullified by the fact that the U.S. will be down three starters against Argentina after midfielder Jermaine Jones picked up a red card with striker Bobby Wood and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya respectively receiving their second yellow cards of the tournament thus triggering an automatic one-game suspension. The U.S. soccer federation appealed Jones’ red card and Wood’s second yellow card but it’s doubtful that their status will change for Tuesday.
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Argentina owns the best offense in soccer as they have already racked up 14 goals in just four games (2+ in every match). Striker Gonzalo Higuain scored two goals against Venezuela in the first 28 minutes. The U.S. has to hope that Argentina’s defense plays as shaky as they did against Venezuela when a better team could easily have had three or more goals (Venezuela hit the post with a header and took maybe the worst penalty kick in soccer history in the first half). Striker Clint Dempsey has scored a goal in each of the last three matches for the U.S. so he will no doubt be closely watched by Argentina wherever he goes on the field.
Follow Metro Boston soccer writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate