As the soccer world descends on Seattle for Thursday night’s Copa America Centenario quarterfinal clash between the United States and Ecuador, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was feeling confident, if a bit cautious, about his team's chances in his final pre-match press conference on Wednesday. "It’s going to be a very even game, it’s going to be a fight until the very last moment."
Klinsmann said prior to the tournament that his expectation for his squad was to make the semi-finals, a task that is still daunting, though less so had the USMNT faced a team like Argentina at this stage of the tournament. Costa Rica’s surprise victory over Colombia sent the US surging to the top of the table, sending them to Seattle against Ecuador. "It’s going to be a nail biter like the last one against Paraguay," Klinsmann said, "but it’s a 50/50 game and we are hungry to go and play."
Regarding the opportunity to play in front of a raucous Seattle crowd at CenturyLink Field, Klinsmann seems genuinely excited: "This is a big, big game tomorrow in beautiful Seattle. We are thrilled to play in front of that crowd, but it's going to be a lot of work." He also wants his team to be "courageous" against Ecuador, because it’s a completely different tournament once the knockout round starts—all thoughts about the group stage should be banished from the players’ minds. "It’s do it or go home. So this is a really exciting time."
One unfortunate aspect of this match for the Seattle crowd is that former Seattle Sounder DeAndre Yedlin won't be able to play in front of his hometown crowd in one of the most crucial matches in the city’s soccer history. Klinsmann is likely to bring in Michael Orozco, a controversial choice who lacks many of Yedlin’s key attributes. The US coach disagrees that including Orozco is controversial, saying that "[Orozco is] a logical inclusion in this roster, because he’s always been there when we needed him. He's an outstanding individual, very focused." It seems that in Klinsmann’s mind, work ethic and experience trumps form and playing time. "He’s in shape, he’s good, he's just not breaking in right now. Michael has always been there for the team," he said, "every time he came in, he did his job."
The United States beat Ecuador 1-0 in their final pre-Copa friendly thanks to a late goal by Darlington Nagbe, but Klinsmann doesn’t put too much psychological stock into that result heading into the quarterfinal. "Obviously we have a lot of respect for [Ecuador], it’s not the same team that we played a couple weeks ago." Klinsmann said that it was a good test for the USMNT and "that we can play with them, we can compete with them."
Klinsmann pointed out Antonio Valencia, Enner Valencia, and Jefferson Montero as key players for their opponents, but he said that the USMNT has just as much quality on its roster. "You can go through the [Ecuador] lineup, it’s a wonderful team. But when I go through our team, we have leaders in there that played two years ago in Brazil and made things happen." He points out captain Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Seattle’s Clint Dempsey as players that can "absolutely compete" with the best of Ecuador.
Ecuador has a lot of speed all over the pitch, but Klinsmann stressed that "it’s important that you stick to your beliefs" in a match like this, but he admits that adjustments could be made if necessary. He wants his backline, who he says is "doing a tremendous job so far," to maintain a high line and take the match to their opponents. "We’ll tell them tomorrow to be courageous and go at them, it’s a 90-minute battle."