The play of defender John Brooks (white jersey) has been key to the USA's success in the Copa America Centenario. (Photo: Mexsport)
HOUSTON -- The United States enters Tuesday’s Copa America Centenario semifinal against Argentina at NRG Stadium facing a familiar challenge: Just how do you stop Lionel Messi?
Neither opponents in Spain’s La Liga nor numerous national teams have been able to shut down consistently one of the best players of all time.
He is equally adept at scoring and creating goals, using his unworldly skills, vision and exceptional ability to find the open man.
The USA might wind up chasing the ball and Messi. A difficult task, no doubt.
"I don't know if you can stop Messi," U.S. defender Matt Besler said. "Obviously there is going 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."
Messi, who turns 29 on Friday, is two strikes away from equaling Gabriel Batistuta's Argentine record of 56 goals.
"Obviously we have to be on top of our game defensively, that’s a no-brainer," commented U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "But we’ve done extremely well the whole competition defensively."
The Americans have not conceded during the run of play in four Copa matches. They did get beaten twice in a loss to Colombia; both goals, however, were from set pieces.
Messi and company pose a big headache because their bread is buttered by goals from the flow of play.
"We are ready to bite, to fight, to chase them, to be all over them," Klinsmann continued. "If they repeat that, and add a little couple more percent to it, then it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be really enjoyable."
The Americans will play without the man who was expected to mark Messi -- midfielder Jermaine Jones (red card). Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and forward Bobby Wood (red card) are also out due to suspension.
"We've got to figure out ways to figure out ways to find the right balance without those players," finished Klinsmann. "We have a good feeling of whoever steps in will do a great job."
In ten all-time matches, Argentina holds a 6-2 advantage over the U.S. in wins. The Americans did upset Argentina in the 1995 Copa America, 3-0, on goals by Frank Klopas, Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda.