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USA-Argentina Memories

While the U.S. Men might have a young squad that is considered inexperienced at the highest level, they aren’t as green as you might believe when it comes to facing Argentina on a big stage. Nine of the players on the roster were part of the last two FIFA U-20 World Cups and in both of those tournaments the U.S. faced off against Argentina, having success against the South American country both times. In 2003, the U.S. had the then reigning champs on the ropes until the final seconds, only to fall in overtime during their quarterfinal match-up in the United Arab Emirates. Then, two years later in the Netherlands, the U.S. pulled off the upset of the tournament when they defeated Lionel Messi and company, 1-0, in the opening round of group play. We sat down with a few of those players to talk about those games, why they think they were so successful against the world power that day and get their thoughts on what they need to do to have a similar outing here at the Copa America.

On what you remember from playing Argentina in the U-20 World Cup:

Eddie Johnson (’03 U-20 World Cup):
“I personally remember Argentina doing so well in the previous World Cup before that one and that they were just dominant at the youth level, but despite that, going into the game with a lot of confidence in our team’s ability. I just remember being fearless and confident. Our mental preparation for the game helped me out a lot. We realized that they were just like us and to not be afraid of the name ‘Argentina.’ They were one of the favorites to win the World Cup and for 90 minutes we gave them a run for their money and were a bit unlucky at the end.”

Ricardo Clark (’03 U-20 World Cup): “Argentina was a really good team and I knew we had a hard task at hand. I remember going into that game thinking we had nothing to lose. It was a good Argentina team we were going up against and we were the underdogs in everyone else’s eyes, but ours. We felt we were just as good as them though, so we went in with nothing to lose and put it all out. I think we did well and could have won the game. We just got unlucky at the end. It was just one of those things that happen in soccer.”

Benny Feilhaber (’05 U-20 World Cup): “Obviously, for the first 10 to 15 minutes, you realize who you’re playing against, so you’re basically just trying to keep organized, keep closed in the back and take your chances when you get them. We were able to get that goal and then tried to keep the lead. When Messi came in, it was real tough to contain him and he did me up a couple times, but I was also able to stop him a couple of times, so getting the win in the first game was huge for us.”

Marvell Wynne (’05 U-20 World Cup): “I just remember getting ready for the game and just being overwhelmed by the atmosphere around, and realizing I’m about to play Argentina that is a big powerhouse at any level. When I got out there though, I was really confident in the team because we had been playing well together. We felt we were going to have a good performance and we did.”

Justin Mapp (’03 U-20 World Cup): “I remember what a great challenge it was going into the game because Argentina had been so strong at the U-20 level. We had a good team, but we knew we needed a very committed effort and we did that for more than 90 minutes of the game. We were unfortunate, but overall we played well and were proud what we did.”

On the approach the team took into the U-20 WC match, and if that’s similar to how the team needs to approach this game in Copa America:

EJ: “Bob (Bradley) talks all the time about focusing on our own team and not worrying about what all the newspapers are saying. In 2003, we just realized what our team goals were and that really made us successful in that tournament. I think when you don’t have anything to lose you play better. Any time you go into a game with that mentality, good things happen. We know they have some of the best players in the world in their line-up and those are guys we’ve idolized maybe at one point, but we need to remember we’re all just human beings.”

RC: “There was a great mentality going into the U-20 World Cup game. Everybody wanted that game and we did it as a team. That’s the biggest thing; we went about it as a team and everyone fulfilled their roles. That’s the same approach we need to take into this game, too, if we want to be successful.”

BF: “I think we came into the game pretty confident. We knew we were playing against the best team in the tournament and we needed to play very organized in the back and take our chances up top. We were able to do both of those by containing them and then finishing one of out good chances. In this match, we need to have a similar performance to get the victory. It will be another tough match, but if we can do similar things we did last time, we will have a chance.”

MW: “We wanted it really bad, more than anything else. We had months of preparation and it all came down to this game. It would mean a lot if we were able to get a result against Argentina and we did that. I think that’s the same mentality we need to have in this match. There are some big names, but if we can come out on a full team scale and show we can compete it will be great for us.”

On what you learned from the U-20 World Cup match, and how you can use that experience for this upcoming game against Argentina:

EJ: “Bob (Bradley) talks about being mentally into the game for 90 minutes, and I think for those 20 seconds when Argentina scored against us in the World Cup we were already thinking we won the game which led to that mental breakdown. That is how the good countries are. They can score in the first minute, in the 90th minute or in extra time, but they always stay focused for 90 minutes, plus. That’s something we need can go into this game remembering and playing to the final whistle and be into the game until the final whistle.”

MW: “It won’t be the same, but it will be close to what we experienced in the U-20 World Cup. We learned that day that no matter who you’re playing against, once you’re on the field it’s just 11 guys going for the same ball. You have to feel each other out and then you get really into the game and hopefully just come out on top. If we play like that in Copa America we have a chance to pull off another upset.”

JM: “It was just a committed effort from everyone. As we did in the World Cup, we’ll need to stay compact and really get after them so they don’t have the ball too much. We’ll have to dodge some bullets here and there, but if we’re committed for 90 minutes, then anything can happen. It’s never going to be easy against them and we’ll have to take that same mentality into the game on Thursday.”

On Lionel Messi in the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and expectations of him now:

BF: “I think Messi is 10 times better than he used to be, to be honest. He started to play with Barcelona after that tournament consistently and when you do that you become just that much better of a player. He’s one of their best and most dangerous players, so it’s going to be a totally different game for him. We basically just have to try and contain him for the most part. He’s a great dribbler and has great speed, so we’ll have to have probably more than one guy keeping their eye on him.”

MW: “The one thing I remember about Messi at the World Cup was him dribbling all the way from the halfway line all the way to almost our goal and getting a shot off. He’s a talented player and very skilled, and someone that will probably give us a headache or two, but we can hopefully shut him down at times and contain him.”

On how playing Argentina in a tournament setting is different than most other games:

MW: “In a tournament, you need to get points and a win is a huge help, so in that aspect it’s more important than just a friendly. The atmosphere of the game is different because there is more on the line. That is something I remember from the World Cup and it will be very similar when we play on Thursday.”

JM: “All games you step out there to represent your country, are going to be important, but knowing it’s a competition, both teams want to get some points from the first match. There’s a slight bit more urgency and you need to be more committed.”