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Argentina makes a ‘Messi’ of the USA soccer team

Argentina's Lionel Messi became Argentina's all-time leading scorer with a goal on a free kick in Argentina's win 4-0 over the USMNT in Copa America Centenario 2016 on Tuesday in Houston, TX. (Photo courtesy of Copa America)

Argentina shredded the shorthanded U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team with a convincing 4-0 win in the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario 2016 on Tuesday in NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

The U.S. team was without three key players in the midfield, Bobby Wood, Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones due to one-game suspensions forcing U.S. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann to dig into his bench inserting Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi and Chris Wondolowski in the starting lineup.

But the real story of the game was Argentina’s Lionel Messi who had a goal and two assists to once again show soccer fans why he is the best soccer player in the world.

In the third minute of play, Messi took a pass from Ezequiel Lavezzi and drew the attention of the U.S. defense. He then lofted a perfect ball over the defenders to the unmarked Lavezzi who headed the ball on the volley over U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan for the first goal of the game.

“I think you could clearly see when we went 1-0 down, we had far too much respect and they were able to play their game,” said Klinsmann. “After the first goal, we were trying to scream into the field, ‘Go at them, become physical, step on their toes, anything.'”

The Argentina attack was relentless throughout the game. The U.S. team was consistently caught flatfooted watching the swift and swirling movement of the high powered blue side. Argentina had 11 shots in the game of which seven were on net. Argentina dominated ball possession 68 percent to 32 and made 675 passes with 625 connecting more than double the U.S. team’s 274 passes with 191 connecting.

Later in the half, Wondolowski received a yellow card for taking down Messi. Klinsmann argued with referee Eduardo Cardozo of Paraguay that Messi placed the ball several yards closer to the U.S. net than where the foul was committed. His protest went nowhere.

Subsequently, Messi sent a looping left-footer into the upper right corner of the frame just out reach of the 6-foot 4-inch Guzan and it was 2-0 after 32 minutes of play. The definitive highlight-film goal was his 56th career score for Argentina making him the country’s leading scorer ahead of Gabriel Batistuta’s 55 goals.

“I’m happy to have gotten the record,” said Messi through an interpreter. “We found the spaces so that we could have more of the ball and we played a very complete match.”

In the second half, Klinsmann reached into his thin reserves to send 17-year-old Christian Pulisic into the game replacing Wondolowski to help jump start the offense. It was Pulisic’s second shift in the tournament. But the Argentinians continued to baffle the American side.

Gonzalo Higuain took over the offense in the second half. He broke into the U.S. attacking zone and fired a low shot that Guzan blocked. Huguian picked up the rebound and fired it back into the open net to make it 3-0.

Huguain scored his second goal in the 86th minute. The U.S. defense had trouble clearing their end and Messi took advantage of the mistake. He dished off to Higuain who put the ball into the back of the net to close out the scoring.

“Making the (championship game) was the objective,” said Messi. “This team always wants more, again we’re in the final and hopefully we will win it. This team deserves it because this team does things well both in attack and defense. We are eager and we have a lot of hope for this cup.”

Argentina heads to Metlife Stadium in New Jersey for the championship game against the winner of Wednesday’s game between Columbia and Chile on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. The U.S. team will travel to University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona for the consolation game on Saturday.

Cup notes: Argentina will be without Augusto Fernandez and Ezequiel Lavezzi due to injuries. Lavezzi left the stadium in a cast with a broken left arm. He fell backwards over an advertising sign breaking his arm in the fall.

BOX SCORE

Lineups

USMNT: Brad Guzan (GK), DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley (Capt.), Kyle Beckerman (Steve Birnbaum 60′), Gyasi Zardes, Clint Dempsey (Darlington Nagbe 78′), Chris Wondolowski (Christian Pulisic 46′).

Argentina: Sergio Romero (GK), Marcos Rojo (Victor Cuesta 84′), Ramiro Funes-Mori, Nicolas Otamendi, Gabriel Mercado, Augusto Fernandez (Lucas Biglia 59′), Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi (Erik Lamela 67′), Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi (Capt.).

Scoring Summary

ARG: Lavezzi (Messi) 3′
ARG: Messi (free kick) 32′
ARG: Higuain 50′ (una)
ARG: Higuain (Messi) 86′

Attendance: 70,858

SCOREBOARD

Wed., June 22
Columbia v Chile (at Chicago)

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