Jurgen Klinsmann urges U.S. to 'be courageous' in Copa match vs. Ecuador
SEATTLE - U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has a simple message for his team ahead of Thursday's Copa America Centenario quarterfinal against Ecuador: "Be courageous, go at them."
Klinsmann has stressed throughout the tournament that the U.S. not sit back and simply try to hit teams on the break. The Americans have largely taken that advice to heart. The only time the U.S. bunkered in and then countered was when it was playing with 10 men and were protecting a 1-0 lead in the group stage finale against Paraguay.
Even in a 2-0 loss to Colombia, the U.S. did what it could to carry the game.
"I think it's important that you stick to your beliefs and what you want to build," Klinsmann said at Wednesday's news conference. "Obviously you adjust to certain moments in the game. If it requires we drop a second you can do that too. We can hit them with counter breaks.
"In general our back line is doing a good job so far and going eye to eye with [teams]. We tell them tomorrow, be courageous, go at them. It's a 90 minute battle."
Klinsmann has his reasons for taking an aggressive posture. While he highlighted the talent level of Ecuador, and players like Jefferson Montero, Antonio Valencia, Enner Valencia, and Christian Noboa, he also lavished praise on some of his own players, including Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey.
Klinsmann added that the experience level his team gained from the 2014 World Cup could also prove important.
"You go through every position and we are there, we can absolutely compete with these guys," said Klinsmann. "Now it's down to the momentum. It's down to that kind of moment where you've got to peak at the right time."
The flanks are expected to be a critical area in determining which team comes out on top. Ecuador's pair of wide midfielders, Montero and Antonio Valencia, are among the most dangerous tandems in the tournament. Their play is augmented by outside backs Walter Ayovi and Juan Carlos Paredes.
The U.S. meanwhile will be without speedy right back DeAndre Yedlin, who is serving a one-game suspension for picking up two yellow cards against Paraguay. His spot in the lineup is expected to be taken by the more defense-minded Michael Orozco.
But Klinsmann added that the play of outside midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Gyasi Zardes will be even more important than the composition of the back line. If they have to spend more time defending than attacking, then it could be a long day for the U.S. team.
"If you look back two years ago in Brazil, our wingers - it was Ale [Bedoya] and it was Graham [Zusi] - had to deal a lot with the full-backs from the other teams going forward. Often they were pushed backwards," he said. "Now they've learned - and Gyasi is in that learning path right now - to push their full-backs back, to make an impression on them.
"Take the game to them, that's what we talked about over the last couple of years. Learn how to take the game to the opponent, even if they have a lot of respect for them."
But more than anything, Klinsmann wants his players to seize the moment, and play to its maximum on the biggest stage they've experienced this World Cup cycle.
"The knockout stage...it's a completely new tournament. It's do it or go home," he said. "This is a really exciting time now."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.