Matt Besler - U.S. MNT vs. Ecuador celebration - June 16, 2016
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Besler and Zusi help U.S. to Copa America semifinals with spectacular 2-1 win over Ecuador

The United States Men's National Team continued its remarkable ascendancy in Copa America Centenario with an inspired 2-1 victory over Ecuador in Thursday's quarterfinals at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler started and played the full 90 minutes while club teammate Graham Zusi appeared as a second-half substitute as the U.S. advanced to the Copa America semifinals for just the second time in history.

Goals in either half from Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes were enough to send the Yanks to Houston's NRG Stadium on Tuesday, where they will meet either Argentina or Venezuela in the semifinals of the prestigious tournament. That match will kick off at 8 p.m. CT on FS1, Univision and Univision Deportes.

DeAndre Yedlin’s red card suspension forced U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to change his starting XI for the first time all tournament. In stepped Besler, the Sporting Kansas City captain and makeshift left back, for his Copa America debut and his 34th international appearance. Fabian Johnson swapped to right back, while John Brooks and Geoff Cameron remained partners in central defense.

The United States drew first blood in the 22nd minute courtesy of Dempsey, who scored for the third straight game and entered a tie as the tournament’s golden boot leader. Bobby Wood carried the ball to the right endline before playing backwards to Jermaine Jones on the edge of the box. Jones clipped a one-time cross into the middle where Dempsey snapped a header into the back of the net from the penalty spot.

Besler would be involved in the U.S. MNT’s second goal, but not before an altercation broke out in the 55th minute that reduced both sides to 10 men. Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia intentionally struck Alejandro Bedoya’s leg, receiving a straight red. Jones reacted with a hand to Valencia’s face, also receiving marching orders as play was interrupted for more than two minutes.

Organized in defense and dangerous going forward, the U.S. built a two-goal cushion in the 65th minute. Brooks sent a long ball downfield for Wood, who picked out an open Besler on the left wing. The Kansas native delivered a teasing cross into the six-yard area that was headed straight upward by the leaping Zardes. Dempsey was on hand to corral the ball and roll it across the face of goal to give Zardes a simple finish from less than a yard out. Dempsey now leads the competition with three assists and has played a part in six of the Yanks’ seven goals in Copa America Centenario.

Ecuador conjured an impressive response after falling two behind and cut the deficit in half when Michael Arroyo’s 20-yard sledgehammer found the bottom left corner. It was the Americans’ first goal conceded from the run of play this tournament, snapping a streak of 343 minutes.

Zusi made his fourth consecutive Copa America substitute appearance in the 81st minute, collecting the 39th cap of his international career. A late wave of pressure from Ecuador made for a gripping finale, but Besler and the backline held their own until the final whistle to send the U.S. through to the Copa semifinals for the first time since 1995.

The U.S. will have two days of extra rest ahead of Tuesday's semifinal encounter, as Argentina and Venezuela square off Saturday in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Argentina is the No. 1 team in the latest FIFA rankings and boasts an embarrassment of riches across the roster, including the world's best player Lionel Messi. Venezuela is ranked 77th but conceded just one goal in three group stage matches en route to two wins and a draw.

COPA AMERICA CENTENARIO QUARTERFINALS

Date Match Time (CT) TV Venue
Thursday, June 16 USA 2-1 Ecuador      
Friday, June 17 Peru vs. Colombia 7 p.m. FS1, Univision, UDN MetLife Stadium
East Rutherford, NJ
Saturday, June 18 Argentina vs. Venezuela 6 p.m. FX, Univision, UDN Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, MA
Saturday, June 18 Mexico vs. Chile 9 p.m. FX, Univision, UDN Levi's Stadium
Santa Clara, CA
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