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USA reaches Copa America semifinals, where depth will be tested

The Americans outlasted Ecuador in a battle in Seattle and will head to Houston for the Copa America semifinals.

SEATTLE — The U.S. got goals from Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes and hung on desperately to beat Ecuador 2-1 in a wild South American-style game (one that featured two red cards and a coach being sent off) to advance to the Copa América Centenario semifinals next Tuesday in Houston.

The U.S. will meet the winner of Argentina-Venezuela in the semifinals. But Thursday’s win came at a cost. The U.S. will have to play in the semis without the suspended Jermaine Jones (red card Thursday), Alejandro Bedoya (yellow card accumulation) and Bobby Wood (yellow card accumulation).

Here are three thoughts on the game:

Good soccer in the first half turned into a second-half slugfest

The U.S. played some of its best soccer in a long time in the first half as it built a deserved 1-0 halftime lead that could have been bigger.

The U.S. passing interchange was fantastic at times and created several chances. But then things got crazy in the second half when Jones (straight red) and Antonio Valencia (second yellow) got sent off after a fracas. Jones’s red seemed harsh, but you also can’t risk putting your hand to an opponent’s face. At 10-on-10 the U.S. got a huge second goal from Zardes, but Michael Arroyo’s goal made the last 20 minutes awfully nervy for the hosts.

Clint Dempsey is an old-fashioned gunslinger in the big tournaments

Clint Dempsey's USMNT motivation evolves, but his hunger remains

If you thought the 33-year-old East Texan was done with the national team, think again. Dempsey scored his third goal of the Copa América, tied for the tournament high, and the 52nd goal of his U.S. career (putting him just five behind Landon Donovan’s record). What’s amazing about Dempsey is his sense of the occasion. He has scored in three World Cups and is putting his stamp on this Copa América, which he watched as a kid and has pointed toward for the past two years.

Dempsey can be a junkyard dog sometimes in the box, but has there ever been a more effective junkyard dog hell-bent on scoring in American soccer?

The U.S. depth is about to be tested big-time

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann used the same lineup for the first three games of this tournament, but he’s going to have to dig deep against Argentina or Venezuela in the semis. Why Klinsmann left Bedoya on the field when he was clearly gassed—allowing him to pick up a yellow-card suspension—made no sense at all. But now the U.S. will have to deal with it.

Kyle Beckerman will likely replace Jones, and we’ll have to wait and see who fills in for Bedoya and Wood. That said, the U.S. has advanced to the Copa América semifinals for just the second time (and first time since 1995). You’d rather be alive in the tournament and facing suspensions than be out of the tournament.

This ride is continuing to Houston.