The United States are treating their Copa America Centenario quarter-final against Ecuador as a “championship game”, though star forward Gyasi Zardes insists the tournament hosts are not dwelling on past results.
Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is the venue for Thursday’s last-eight clash, with Zardes and Co. looking to match the feat of the 1995 USA team, who progressed to the Copa America semi-finals.
USA have not buckled under pressure amid the weight of growing expectations at the centenary tournament on home soil, qualifying for the quarters as winners of Group A after seeing off Paraguay 1-0 and dismantling Costa Rica 4-0, having lost to Colombia in the curtain-raiser.
And as USA prepare to lock horns with Ecuador, Zardes – a mainstay in Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting line-up – told Omnisport: “It’s a huge accomplishment to get to the quarter-finals. It’s one of our biggest games to date.
“We’re treating it like a championship game.”
Klinsmann’s USA have silenced their critics en route to the quarters.
The knives were out as soon as the final whistle sounded at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on June 3 after USA went down 2-0 to 2001 champions Colombia.
USA were given little hope of making it out of the group but Zardes said his team-mates never lost faith.
“You know what, it’s crazy, we played an amazing game against Colombia. They scored off two set-pieces,” the 24-year-old LA Galaxy star said.
“I think our fans had faith in us, they always believed. We always believed.
“Our coaching staff is always positive and after that result, they were already looking ahead to the next game and getting us prepared.”
USA are no strangers to staging tournaments, you only have to look back to last year, when the Americans co-hosted the CONCACAF Gold Cup alongside Canada.
That campaign did not go according to plan for Klinsmann’s men, who watched rivals Mexico reign supreme after failing to advance beyond the semi-finals.
It was the first time USA had not made the final since 2003 but fast forward 12 months and Zardes said the Americans are not motivated by their Gold Cup failure.
“The way I see it, we leave the past in the past and we’re only thinking about the future and moving forward,” the 28-cap international said.
“The present day, we’re motivated by the guys in this camp and the coaching staff talking to us and telling us how big this accomplishment is.
“I don’t think we’re really thinking about Gold Cup. That was so last year. This is a huge tournament and a different platform.
“It’s hard to say we’re motivated by the Gold Cup, because this is now, it’s current, so that’s enough motivation for us.”
USA and Ecuador met in a pre-Copa America friendly last month, with the former triumphing 1-0 thanks to a late Darlington Nagbe strike, but Zardes knows Thursday’s showdown will be a completely different ballgame as both teams vie for a semi-final meeting with either 14-time champions Argentina or Venezuela.
Zardes, though, is counting on another strong collective defensive effort from USA, who have won six of their past seven matches courtesy of five clean sheets.
“We have a great backline, and great midfielders, and even our forwards come back to help. You can see that we’re a team that plays together and sticks together,” he added.
“I definitely feel like in the last game, when we were down a man [against Paraguay following DeAndre Yedlin’s red card], our defensive efforts were superb.”
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