Leo Messi made a lot of US players look bad tonight, including Steve Birnbaum
COPA AMERICA 2016
U.S. MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM
Jun 22, 2016
By ChestRockwell @chestrockwell14 on Jun 22, 2016, 12:16a 19
An uncharacteristic mistake from the D.C. United center back contributed to a goal in the USMNT’s heavy loss in the Copa America tonight.
To night’s Copa America Centenario semifinal between the United States andArgentina did not go well for the USMNT, who lost 4-0 in Houston. However, one D.C. United player did at least get to play a part, as center back Steve Birnbaum got into the game for the final half-hour. Birnbaum came in for Kyle Beckerman in the 60th minute, with Geoff Cameron moving into Beckerman’s midfield role and Birnbaum playing his normal spot in central defense.
Birnbaum completed a pass under little pressure within a minute of entering, but the game came to a long stop moments later after Ezequiel Lavezzi – trying to keep a ball in bounds on the touchline – backed into the advertising boards and fell over them. It was not a good looking moment in the aftermath, with Lavezzi’s elbow a particular concern.Erik Lamela eventually came in on the left after a 3+ minute delay.
Birnbaum’s next touch came in the 71st minute, and with the US trying to stay forward, he had few options nearby. Birnbaum tried a 60 yard pass up toward Christian Pulisic along the right wing, but it sailed about a yard too far (and even if it had stayed in, Pulisic would have needed a glorious touch to control it under pressure from Marcos Rojo). He had a few more touches five minutes later, but after an exchange with Bradley he passed back to Brad Guzan, who hoofed the ball upfield.
A minute after that, he did just enough to lean on Lionel Messi so that the world’s best player couldn’t get to a ball in the US end. Messi got the better of Birnbaum moments later, though, fooling him and Bradley into both stepping to him before passing immediately after both US players leaned toward him. Lamela raced in with space, but fired into the outside netting.
Unfortunately, Birnbaum did himself no favors in the 86th minute. A spell of token pressure from Argentina still managed to put the US in a bad spot, as again no one made themselves available for the ball. Bradley found himself boxed in and played a strange pass about 7 yards ahead of Birnbaum (who was expecting either a pass to John Brooks or a pass to feet). Birnbaum still had time to get to the ball, but under pressure from the suddenly sprinting Javier Mascherano, he got caught in two minds.
Birnbaum appeared to think he could step over the ball and turn back to pass to Guzan. It’s not the kind of thing Birnbaum would normally do, even in the confines of an MLS match with a less dangerous player lurking. Perhaps he was caught off-guard by the pass and froze up. Perhaps Messi pulled some kind of Jedi mind trick on him (“No, Steve, I’m 15 yards away”). In any case, Messi was close enough to jump in and take the ball before Birnbaum completed his maneuver. Messi charged into the box with Gonzalo Higuain, with Brooks the only man back. Messi drew Brooks before slotting over to Higuain, who fired past Guzan before Birnbaum could arrive to correct his error. The only good news is that, at this point, the game was long over. People will remember this mistake, but it’s not exactly Chris Wondolowski vs. Belgium.
That fourth goal effectively ended the game, as neither team really did much of anything beyond waiting for the referee to end the match. It was unfortunate for Birnbaum, who is pushing for a solid spot within the USMNT squad at a position where there are some good candidates. Omar Gonzalez had a very good first season in Mexico, which ended with a Liga MX champion’s medal. Jurgen Klinsmann has also shown a strong loyalty towards Michael Orozco, though he is seen as a utility defender more than a center back.
Still, Birnbaum will get a chance to prove that this is not representative of his ability. This weekend’s 3rd place game against the loser between Colombia and Chile is an opportunity for Klinsmann to rotate some less experienced players in. Klinsmann’s substitutions in this game – Birnbaum, Pulisic, and Darlington Nagbe – all fall in that category, and sending them into tonight’s game might be a signal of his intentions. Of course, there are no guarantees with Klinsmann, so we could well see Cameron and Brooks paired up once again.