The good news? The U.S. advanced to the semifinals of Copa America last week after a rough game against Ecuador that saw the game end with 20 total players left on the field.
The bad news? All the teams that the Americans have faced thus far are not the No. 1 ranked team in the world with the best player of his generation.
A short-handed American squad faces Lionel Messi and Argentina today in the Copa America semifinals. And if the U.S. is going to advance to the Copa finals for the first time ever, it’ll have to solve a team with an attack so frightening that it should get their own horror movie.
First, the U.S. has to contend with the new bearded incarnation of Messi, who seems to be even more fearsome than his less-scruffy alter ego. But to make matters worse, the host team will be without three of its main starters: Bobby Wood (yellow card accumulation), Alejandro Bedoya (yellow card accumulation), and, perhaps most painfully, Jermaine Jones (straight red in the previous game).
Those three out of the lineup just about dismantles the American midfield. The U.S. still has Michael Bradley — but leaves Jurgen Klinsmann with a decision to make about his formation.
With Wood out, it would make sense for Klinsmann to play a 4-4-2 formation with Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes up top and Darlington Nagbe slipping into the No. 10 role.
If Klinsmann wants to play defensively, he could opt for a double pivot at the base of his midfield, bringing Kyle Beckerman in to play alongside Michael Bradley while deploying Graham Zusi and Zardes on the flanks and starting with Chris Wondolowski and Dempsey up top.
Given Argentina’s ability to basically pass around its opponents and use its explosive speed to break down the flanks and cut in with either Messi or go direct with Gonzalo Higuain in the middle, using a double pivot might be beneficial.
But, really, none of this proves promising for the Americans, who will regain DeAndre Yedlin at right-back after he served his suspension for earning two yellow cards during the game against Paraguay. That likely brings an end to the Matt-Besler at left-back experience that no one really expected — or cared for — with Fabian Johnson sliding back into his typical role.
The defense looks solid, but the attack is a worry. Dempsey has been fantastic for the U.S. thus far, with three goals and three assists through four games. Depending on whether Wondolowski or Zardes starts in the probable second forward spot, could also give the Americans some options.
We all remember what happened the last time Wondolowski had a golden opportunity to send his team to the next round of a tournament. (In case you don’t, he missed a chip-shot put-in.) Let’s see if Klinsmann trusts him enough to start him up top this time.
Will the U.S. pull off the upset of a generation in NRG Stadium? Or will Bearded Messi inch his team that much closer to its first Copa title in 23 years?
There’s always the third-place game right?
Photos: Shaun Clark/Getty Images (Dempsey), Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (Messi), Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images (US), Charles Krupa/AP (Argentina)