Copa America

U.S. beats Paraguay, but won't return to Soldier Field

U.S. beats Paraguay, but won't return to Soldier Field

Despite losing its first group match 2-0 to Colombia, the United States was able to get out of its group at the Copa America Centenario.

The U.S. beat Paraguay 1-0 in Philadelphia on Saturday night on a Clint Dempsey goal in the first half. The Americans survived playing a man down for more than 40 minutes when DeAndre Yedlin got two yellow cards in the span of a minute.

A draw against Paraguay would have been enough for the U.S. to advance out of its group, but the win meant there was a chance to win Group A. That chance involved Costa Rica beating Colombia.

It was a long shot because Colombia had won both of its previous group matches and is one of the highest ranked teams in the world while Costa Rica was eliminated before it took the field. However, the Colombians rested some key players and Costa Rica took advantage with a 3-2 win at NRG Stadium in Houston.

The U.S. won Group A based on goal differential. The 4-0 win against Costa Rica in Chicago played a large part in that goal differential.

So now the Americans head to Seattle for a quarterfinal on Thursday against the runner-up of Group B, which could be any of Ecuador, Peru or Brazil. Those two South American coutries face off Sunday to decide the group winner.

Another consequence of Saturday's results is that the U.S. can't play in the semifinal taking place at Soldier Field on June 22. If the Americans were the second place team in Group A, they would have been one win away from a return to Chicago. If the current group leaders hold and advance that match could be Brazil-Mexico.

Leo Messi steals the show with hat trick in Soldier Field

Leo Messi steals the show with hat trick in Soldier Field

With all respect to the rest of Argentina's very talented national team, Friday's 5-0 win against Panama was all about one man.

Leo Messi, probably the greatest player of this generation and in the discussion for best ever, played his first competitive match in the United States and Chicago's Soldier Field got to play host.

Messi missed Argentina's Copa America Centenario opener against Chile on Monday due to a back injury suffered in the lead up to the tournament. That meant Chicago got to witness his debut, even if it came off the bench.

Messi didn't disappoint the crowd of 53,885 fans. After coming on in the 62nd minute, Messi scored seven minutes later. Gonzalo Higuain elegantly blocked a clearance with his face to spring Messi for an open chance in the box, which he put away.

Then Messi got fouled just outside the Panama box. Initially most of the fans in the stadium jeered that someone hacked down the beloved superstar. However, it offered another opportunity for Messi to shine.

The ball was just to the right of Jaime Penedo’s goal. It was a great spot for the left-footed Messi to go for goal and that’s exactly what he did. Penedo never had a chance and the crowd erupted again.

As if that wasn’t enough, Messi showed his trademark ball control in tight spaces to free himself in the box while under pressure to finish off his hat trick.

Turns out Messi was worth all the chants for his name. Those started in the 23rd minute, with the crowd hoping to urge Argentina manager Gerardo Martino to sub on Messi. Then it started up again, and again and again. Once Messi starting scoring, the chant of his name was no longer calling for him to come in, but was now one of admiration.

All of a sudden the initial disappointment that Messi didn’t start went away. Argentina manager Gerardo Martino said on the day before the match that Messi would play, but that became in doubt when he wasn’t listed in the starting lineup.

“I never thought that Leo would not be playing,” Martino said through a translator. “I thought he would play about 30 minutes and he did.”

Panama was playing down a man since the 31st minute due to a second yellow card to Anibal Godoy. As Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez said, his team was tired and then "the monster” Messi came on, which was a recipe for disaster.

“Messi scores and this makes us feel more tired,” Gomez said. “If you make a mistake and Messi is there, he’s going to score.”

He did score. Three times. In Chicago. In a competitive match. That’s how legends are made.

U.S. Soccer picks up crucial win in Soldier Field

U.S. Soccer picks up crucial win in Soldier Field

In a must-win game, the U.S. Men’s National Team delivered in a big way in Soldier Field.

A loss to Costa Rica would have made the Americans the first team eliminated from the Copa America Centenario. Instead they hammered the Ticos with three first half goals in a 4-0 win in front of a crowd of 39,642 in Chicago.

Clint Dempsey got the party started with a penalty kick in the ninth minute. Jermaine Jones and and Bobby Wood added goals late in the first half and the rout was on.

“We think they deserve a huge, huge compliment for tonight’s performance,” U.S manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “I think it was overall a very, very pleasant performance and it confirms the spirit of the group. The spirit is excellent.”

Dempsey also assisted on Jones’ and Wood’s goals to have a goal and two assists by halftime. It was a must-win for the U.S., but Dempsey said playing well under pressure is nothing new for the team.

“Any World Cup cycle you’re going to have periods where things are not going well and you have to respond," he said. "For us to have a chance at staying in this tournament and getting out of our group we needed to win tonight. But the work’s not done.”

The final group game for the U.S. is Saturday against Paraguay in Philadelphia. A draw would be good enough for the U.S. to advance from Group A as the second place team behind Colombia, which beat the U.S. 2-0 in the tournament opener.

From the local standpoint, Brad Guzan was able to get the shutout in Chicago. Guzan is a Providence Catholic graduate and this was his first match for the national team in Soldier Field.

“It’s always important to keep a clean sheet,” Klinsmann said. “It’s important for your back line, it’s important for your goalkeeper. He had a home game tonight, Brad Guzan, in Chicago so he’s super pleased obviously.”

Guzan directed the talk away from himself, but was pleased with the team’s performance.

“We knew from day one that the second game was going to be huge for us and the guys, all the credit to them, they turned out a great performance,” Guzan said.

Soldier Field was more than 20,000 seats short of a full-house, but it was a pro-American crowd, which the team did not enjoy at Levi’s Stadium against Colombia.

“Today was perfect. We played good and the support was good,” Jones said.