It was bad. It was really bad. Nothing was good — from the United States' point of view — about their 4-0 loss to Argentina in the Copa America semifinals. The US were horrifically awful on Tuesday night.
That may be slightly exaggerating it. But the US were terrible against Argentina; it was an embarrassing result for the players, the coaches, and the organization. It's hard to put in words what we saw at NRG Stadium.
Here are some talking points:
1. Jurgen Klinsmann's lineup choices were bad.
When I saw Klinsmann's lineup before the game:
He kept the backline the same, which is good. But after that, he screwed it up pretty royally.
Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman played together in central midfield and appeared to have the chemistry and understanding of Ryan Howard and Kelly Kapoor. I never really understood what Bradley's role was — box-to-box turnover machine? — and Beckerman's 34-year old presence eliminated whatever midfield creativity the US were going to get. Why Darlington Nagbe only got 12 minutes, I am still trying to figure out.
Graham Zusi and Gyasi Zardes played on the wings, and while I'm not entirely opposed to Zusi starting, I'm more opposed to him starting alongside other veteran turtles like Beckerman and the forward pairing. Chris Wondolowski and Clint Dempsey — both really good at poaching goals when playing with a strong, speedy number-nine like GYASI ZARDES — were played together at striker, and it was as bad everyone knew it would be, except, of course, Klinsmann. Here's their passing map:
That is one ugly passing chart. Notice how they combined to complete just one pass anywhere near the box, and how Wondo completed a grand total of two passes. Granted, that was in 45 minutes of action, but still, that's horrible, and it easily could have been prevented if Klinsmann had recognized the strengths and weaknesses of these two.
He tried to fix it by taking Wondo out at halftime for Christian Pulisic and moving Zardes up top with Dempsey, but by that point, it was way too late.
2. Michael Bradley was uncharacteristically bad.
When played in defensive midfield, Michael Bradley can be really good, just as he was against Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Ecuador. But when he is given a role that I don't think even he understood while playing in front of another defensive midfielder, he is not good.
Bradley was atrocious against Argentina. He was unsuccessful in almost everything he did:
The US were extremely ineffective when they had to pass the ball to forwards, and a lot of that was because of Bradley's terrible performance. We're used to seeing crappy NFL quarterbacks at NRG Stadium, but I didn't think we would see the US's quarterback have such a howler of a game.
3. Dempsey, Wondolowski, Beckerman, Brad Guzan, and John Brooks were bad as well.
We've talked about the first three already. Let's get to the other two underperformers.
Guzan, who has mostly been very good throughout this tournament, will be kicking himself for allowing the first two goals. The first, which came in just the third-minute, set the US back significantly:
Messi's free-kick was a worldie, but don't overlook his assist for Lavezzi's goal. Pulled Guzan into no-mans land. pic.twitter.com/CJzjtvhaJM— Cam Russell (@CamRussNZ) June 22, 2016
Messi's floated ball to the head of Ezequiel Lavezzi is ridiculous, and Lavezzi's finish is solid. But Guzan clearly has no idea whether or not he wants to come off his line, resulting in him getting stuck in no-man's land, and then being unable to get anywhere close to the shot. If he had been able to make a quick decision, he might have been able to get a hand on the shot.
The second was more Messi brilliance than anything else, but Guzan still could have done better:
I don't think Messi could have hit that any better than he did. But when I watch it, I cringe, because Guzan could have possibly gotten to it if he hadn't inched closer to his near post rather than covering the side he was supposed to cover. Watch how he took a step toward the spot where he thought Messi would go and where most free kick-takers go, then was unable to get back to his far post. It's a mistake that many goalkeepers make, and it's one that cost Guzan here.
The other two goals weren't his fault at all, and he managed to make a couple good saves later on, but it wasn't Guzan's best performance. The same goes for Brooks.
The Hertha Berlin defender, who had arguably been the US's best player of the tournament, struggled when tasked with playing the ball out of the back under pressure. Many US players struggled with this, but Brooks's turnovers and inability to recover were particularly bad. However, he's young and he's shown an ability to learn from his mistakes so I doubt this will set him back in the long run.
That sentiment can be applied to the US national team as well.
4. Argentina are really good.
After making it to the final of three straight major international tournaments, Argentina have a right to be named the best national team since the Spanish side that won the 2008 Euros, the 2010 World Cup, and the 2012 Euros in quick succession a few years ago. They were dominant against the US, and deserved to win handily. It's as simple as that.