The U.S. Men’s National Team elected not to dwell on its listless first half against Ecuador on Wednesday. Encouraged by a much stronger second half, sparked by a trio of younger stars, the Americans instead pointed to Saturday’s final tuneup match against Bolivia in Kansas City.
Against the 79th-ranked team in the world Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park, the U.S. attack finally stood tall as two of the team’s youth stole the show.
Los Angeles Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes scored twice on both sides of halftime, and 17-year-old Dortmund darling Christian Pulisic scored to become the youngest goal scorer in U.S. history, as the Americans cruised to a 4-0 in its final tune-up before the summer tournament on U.S. soil.
“I think our chemistry is really good,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “This is a very special tournament, and they realize that. They realize that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play the Copa America here in the United States, and with every day I think they realize how big this tournament really is.”
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Zardes gave the U.S. a commanding 3-0 lead in the 52nd minute before making way for Pulisic, who needed six minutes to find himself all alone in the box, where he took a dribble and slotted his shot to the left of the Bolivia goalkeeper, the first of his international career.
“Obviously it was nice first goal from Christian Pulisic,” Klinsmann said. “At such a young age, to score a goal on the senior team is quite special.”
It was the first win against Bolivia for the U.S., who will open Copa America competition against Colombia on Friday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Colombia is the fourth-ranked team in the world, according to FIFA.
The U.S. outscored its opponents 8-1 during the three tune-up matches, and had its largest margin of victory against a South American opponent in the process.
All of which leads up to next Friday.
“When Copa America starts, it’s going to be a whole different animal,” Alejandro Bedoya said. “Colombia is going be like the Ghana game in the World Cup. It’s got to play like a final. It’s going to be a whole different game, but this type of game gives us confidence and motivation.”
Despite the final score, the U.S. looked sluggish from the onset. A back line consisting of four center backs, including Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler, were dispossessed a handful of times before the 10-minute mark. The Americans first shot didn’t come until the 20th minute.
That one shot, however, opened the floodgates. Sparked by Bedoya’s efforts, the U.S. attack picked up the pace, fired five more chances and found itself with a 2-0 lead at halftime. The Americans finished with 13 shots, including seven on target, and a commanding 60 percent of the possession.
Bedoya assisted on both goals. The first strike came in the 26th minute off a calm finish by L.A. Galaxy forward Zardes. Clint Dempsey opened the sequence with a flicked pass to Bedoya, who led Zardes into the box with an over-the-shoulder flick of his own.
On the giving end once again, Bedoya and fellow midfielder Michael Bradley combined to catch Bolivia napping on a dead ball free kick. Bradley played a ball through traffic at into space and at Bedoya, who sent a cross back into the box where centerback John Brooks stood ready for the clinical finish.
Already in the driver’s seat, Zardes and Pulisic added to the rout. The small but boisterous crowd let out the loudest roar of the night when Pulisic sent his low-firing shot into the back of the net. Pulisic was met with smiles of his teammates, who celebrated the individual achievement and the win.
“The guys have taken me in” Pulisic said. “They’re all really nice, and it’s helped me a lot that I’ve been with them a few weeks now. I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
Besler made his international debut at left back before being subbed off at halftime. Klinsmann said after the match he wouldn’t hesitate using Besler at fullback if need be. Teammate Graham Zusi entered the match in the 73rd minute.
Following the Colombia clash next Friday, the U.S. faces Costa Rica four days later in Chicago and then concluded group play versus Paraguay on June 11 in Philadelphia.