Copa América lesson for the U.S.: Don't Mess with Messi

“You got yourself into the [Copa América] semifinal, you made yourself proud, now go for more.”

That was the message U.S. Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters on Sunday he had communicated to his team as they prepared to face Argentina, the top-ranked team in the world.

Monday night, NRG Stadium in Houston was filled with fans eager to see the U.S. go for more. Spectators were packed in, taking up all 70,858 seats. They were anxious to witness one of the biggest USMNT games ever played in the U.S.

Red, white, and blue were everywhere you looked. Even though the U.S. was the clear underdog, the feeling — or hope — in the stadium was that the team might be able to pull out a win. Fans in the stands chanted U-S-A. Just before the game started, “Born in the U.S.A.” played from the speakers.

But mixed in with the patriotic colors of those supporting the United States, you could not miss an almost equal number of jerseys with Argentina star Lionel Messi’s name printed across the back. And once the whistle blew to start the game, you definitely could not miss the class and skill of Messi and his teammates, who defeated the U.S. 4–0 to advance to the Copa América final on Sunday.

With only three minutes on the clock, Messi chipped a clean pass to Ezequiel Lavezzi, who headed the ball straight past U.S. keeper Brad Guzan for the first goal of the night. Argentina dominated the game from that point until the final whistle.

In the 31st minute of the game, U.S. striker Chris Wondolowski fouled Messi, resulting in a free kick opportunity for Messi. And what a free kick it was! Messi curled the ball into the top corner, and there was nothing that Guzan — or anyone, for that matter — could have done to stop it. Messi’s free kick was his 55th goal for Argentina, breaking the existing record and making him the country’s all-time leading goal scorer.

The chanting from the crowd in Houston switched from U-S-A to Olé-Olé-Olé. Everyone seemed to be entranced by the magic of Messi.

Things went from bad to worse for the U.S. in the second half. At 50 minutes into the game, Gonzalo Higuan scored the third goal of the night for Argentina. And Higuan followed that up with another goal at the 86th minute. Messi intercepted a stray U.S. pass and squared the ball to Higuan, who was able to neatly tap it into the net.

The full-time score of 4–0 in favor of Argentina does not tell the whole story. The underlying stats look just as bad for the U.S. The MNT failed to get a single shot on goal, while Argentina had 10 shots on goal. Argentina held a strong edge in possession, 67% to 33%, and the U.S. only secured one corner kick.

The consensus of the crowd was that the U.S. has a lot of work ahead if it wants to be a credible threat in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The USMNT will play a consolation game for third place in the Copa América on June 25. Argentina, which last won the Copa América in 1993, now moves to the final for the fifth time. The team will face the winner of the Chile vs. Colombia semifinal on June 26.

Photos: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images (2)


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