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Thursday, June 16, 2016

USA v ECU at the Copa America Centenial: A personal journey

The United States Men's National Team will face off against Ecuador in tonight's quarterfinal at the Copa America. The USA comes to the game in good form after dismantling Costa Rica 4-0 and holding a formidable defensive posture versus Paraguay, with 10 men, to win the game 1-0. Ecuador is one of the best teams in Conmebol. They are tied for first in the World Cup Qualifiers and are unbeaten in the tournament.

The last time I posted a blog was last June. This post signifies my return to the blogosphere. And it is quite special since USA and Ecuador are my two favorite teams and the countries that I call home. 

My ride for the past year has been quite emotional in my world. Sometimes life gets a hold of your wishes and expectations and we can only accept that we are, and will always be, along for the ride. I thank family and friends for being there for me.

What applies to me personally also applies to the two teams I write about in this post. The USMNT has had an up-and-down year, with more downs than ups, but they are finally starting to gel and hitting their stride at the right time. Ecuador has been impressive for the past year but really needs to make a statement internationally to truly show they belong on the stage.

The key for this match is on the flanks. For Team USA, DeAndre Yedlin will miss the match due to a red card in the previous game. This is a tough loss because it gives Ecuador's Jeff Montero much more freedom to exploit his speed and fantasy. Fabian Johnson will have his hands full against one of the world's best crossers in Manchester United's Antonio Valencia.

John Brooks will need to be at his very best and continue the trend he has set in this tournament. He is becoming this generation's Onyewu. He will need all his defensive knowledge to nullify Enner Valencia. For Ecuador, Paredes and Erazo will need to concentrate on keeping Dempsey and Wood in check. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones have a good test in Noboa and Arroyo (if healthy). This should be an interesting matchup.

So let's enjoy the game, folks. This cannot end in a tie. A semifinal is a huge achievement for either team. It will be the USA's highest outside of the Gold Cup and 2002's World Cup quarterfinals appearance. For Ecuador, a semifinal would mark the first time the team has made it this far since they hosted the Copa America in 1993.