Let’s not cast any delusions of grandeur or false hopes: The U.S. is going to get seriously punked by Argentina on Thursday night.
How do I know? Take a look at Team USA’s 23-man Copa América roster: It doesn’t take a genius to see it’s woefully outmatched. After the three-week Gold Cup, head coach Bob Bradley knew he wasn’t going to be able to bring most of his top stars to Venezuela, and he had to tread lightly when he was making his picks from Major League Soccer -- the league wasn’t exactly jumping up and down to give up its top American players for two weeks in mid-season.
The result breaks down like this: No Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra or most of the Gold Cup squad. Instead, 16 players age 25 or younger. Fourteen players from MLS teams. Eleven players with five or fewer international appearances, eight of whom have been capped only once -- or not at all.
What does that remind me of? Put it this way: In the Olympics, soccer teams are made up of players who are 23 or younger, with the exception of three veterans. Step forward, grizzled old Kasey Keller, Jimmy Conrad and Ben Olsen. It’s time to baby-sit.
Not that Bradley’s roster doesn’t feature some great talent. World Cup veteran Eddie Johnson is still among the ranks, as is fellow MLS scoring machine Taylor Twellman. And up-and-comers like Justin Mapp, Benny Feilhaber and Jonny Bornstein look like they’ve cemented themselves spots in the U.S. rotation for the next few years. But it’s going to be trial by fire for the likes of Drew Moor, Lee Nguyen, Herculez Gomez and Marvell Wynne.
In the other locker room? Oh, just the most complete and imposing team in the entire tournament. Argentina hasn’t won the Copa América since 1993, and head coach Alfio Basile called up a roster that is top-to-bottom stacked with scary names that are among the best in the game, especially in the attack: Lionel Messi. Carlos Tévez (both pictured, above right). Hernán Crespo. Esteban Cambiasso. Juan Román Riquelme.
Put it another way: It’s pretty much all the same guys who were key in demolishing Serbia and Montenegro 6-0 at the World Cup last summer in one of the most awesome displays of ball movement and pure firepower I’ve ever seen. (Check out this 16-pass sequence from that game that was literally poetry in motion.)
From where I’m sitting, it’s debatable if this U.S. roster is as good as that Serbian team.
So I’m not going to sit here and pray the U.S. somehow makes a game out of it. The young Yanks are going to get a quick lesson on how much further they have to go to become a competitive team on the world stage. Of course, if I'm wrong and the U.S. pulls a shocker, I'll be the first to eat crow.
But Thursday night, I’m going to be a fan of the game and watch soccer played like it’s supposed to be played. Argentina knows it needs to start the tournament with a bang and it won’t take the U.S. lightly no matter what. That’s terrifying.
So accept it: The U.S. doesn’t have a chance. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch.