Soccer

Red, White and Blue in the Emerald City

The United States’ Clint Dempsey, a Seattle Sounders star, dribbles during the first half against Paraguay on Saturday in Philadelphia.
The United States’ Clint Dempsey, a Seattle Sounders star, dribbles during the first half against Paraguay on Saturday in Philadelphia. The Associated Press

United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann considers his team’s Copa America Centenario quarterfinal match with Ecuador to be a 50-50 proposition, one where any advantage could prove decisive.

And he hopes one of his team’s advantages will be the heavily pro-USA crowd expected Thursday at CenturyLink Field.

“Any little kind of small piece can make the difference in that game,” Klinsmann said. “And it’s huge for us to know that we have the crowd behind us and have a crowd that understands when it really needs to push us on. … We want the players to realize it’s a very, very special moment. I think that the crowd also realizes that this is the biggest game in Seattle probably for a couple of years to come. This is Copa America, knockout stage. You’re not getting it any bigger than that.”

There must be a winner. If the score is tied at the end of 90 minutes, the game will go to penalty kicks without extra time. And the stakes are stark: win and advance, lose and go home.

Except the USA already is home, and the Americans hope that will help send them on to the semifinals.

“It’s still the same situation: do or die,” said Clint Dempsey, the Seattle Sounders forward who ranks second on the national team’s career goals list. “It’s the same mentality we’ve had the last few games. Important game, and we’ll be ready for it. We’re looking to go far into this tournament.”

Already in this competition, the United States (2-1) has played before crowds of 67,439 in Santa Clara, California; 39,642 in Chicago, and 51,041 in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Seattle has drawn crowds of 20,190 and 45,753 for group matches between Haiti-Peru and Argentina-Bolivia respectively.

Then the fates of tournament bracketing smiled on Seattle for the final Copa America match it will host, sending the Red, White and Blue to the Emerald City.

“It’s going to be unbelievable,” said DeAndre Yedlin, a national team defender and Seattle native. “I’ve obviously played in front of these fans a lot, and I believe it’s the best atmosphere in the U.S. For the guys who are going to be playing it’s going to be an unbelievable atmosphere. The fans are going to come out in numbers and be cheering the boys on for every minute of the game.”

Yedlin began his professional career as a Sounder and played the 2013 and ’14 seasons in his hometown before taking his career to England. Yet this isn’t as happy a homecoming as it might have been, because Yedlin is ineligible after drawing two yellow cards in the USA’s 1-0 win over Paraguay on Saturday.

The cards — both for unsporting behavior — came within a minute of each other. Klinsmann sees it as a hard lesson for a valuable starter still just 22 years old.

“With the first yellow card, he was too emotional about it,” Klinsmann said. “He was too upset about everything: himself, the call and all that stuff. That’s when you have to be kind of more calm. And this will come over time: It’s an age-related issue that you’re just too pumped up in that moment. He will learn just to kind of breathe a second, walk away from it, think about it a second, just kind of get back to your game.”

Yedlin agreed.

“You’re always learning,” he said. “Even you talk to Clint, and he’s still learning. As a player, if you’re not learning every day then you’re obviously not improving. … I’ll learn from this one and move on to the next.”

Yedlin’s hard lesson also will force Klinsmann to alter a lineup that was unchanged in back-to-back wins over Costa Rica and Paraguay. Klinsmann was not interested in discussing those changes in advance. But he was eager to praise his opponent.

Ranked 12th in the world by FIFA, Ecuador went 1-0-2 in Group B, second behind Peru but ahead of ousted Brazil.

“There are some special players on that side: Enner Valencia, Antonio Valencia, if it’s (Jefferson) Montero, (Michael) Arroyo can shoot from all over the place, can hit you in a split second,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a good team. And this is what we want. We want to learn how to beat those teams in a really, really big competition.”

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