United States captain Michael Bradley insists there has been no change in mentality for the host nation as they prepare to face 14-time champions Argentina in the Copa America Centenario semi-finals.
USA have the chance to make history in Houston on Tuesday as they seek to reach the Copa America final for the first time at the expense of tournament favourites and last year’s runners-up Argentina.
FIFA’s top-ranked nation Argentina have been almost flawless, winning all four matches en route to the semis, scoring 15 goals following their 4-1 demolition of Venezuela in the last eight.
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann has already said his team – CONCACAF’s remaining representative at the centenary tournament thanks to Mexico’s embarrassing quarter-final exit – will not be overawed by the occasion in the aftermath of their 2-1 win against Ecuador and Bradley has followed suit, despite the absence of suspended trio Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya.
“No change in reaction. It’s a semi-final. A chance to get ourselves into a final of a big tournament in our home country,” Bradley told ussoccer.com. “As we said after the game the other day, whether it was Venezuela or Argentina, it wasn’t going to change anything on our side.
“Now we know specifically who it is, we can prepare and understand how we exactly want to go about it.
“The longer you player in your career, the more you understand these opportunities don’t come around all the time.”
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi has been immense for Argentina, who are looking to end their 23-year wait for a major trophy, recovering from a back injury and peaking at the right time.
After sitting out Argentina’s opening 2-1 win over Chile, Messi returned to score a second-half hat-trick against Panama, backed up by a goal and two assists in the dismantling of Venezuela.
But USA are not planning to give Messi any special attention at Gillette Stadium, with the Argentina skipper just one goal away from becoming the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer.
“I don’t know if you can stop Messi,” defender Matt Besler said. “Obviously there is gonna be a lot of attention around him, there always is.
“It’s a group effort when you play against him. You always have to know where he is on the field. At the same time, we have to play our game. You can’t focus too much on the opponent.”
Argentina are on the cusp of a third consecutive major final, following defeats in the 2014 World Cup decider and 2015 Copa America finale.
And while Argentina have emerged as the team to beat, coach Gerardo Martino feels his side are only getting better.
“I am proud, the last three years I have been in charge, they have played three tournaments, and no matter what they will have played 19 games,” he said. “Most of the games they have played very well, but in two of them not very well but still they come full of hope and lots of confidence.
“It’s not easy for a team that came as far in previous tournaments to come as far in this one. I feel we are growing, and that really fills me with pride.”