U.S. Soccer books spot in Copa America quarters with 1-0 win over Paraguay at the Linc

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The midnight green of Lincoln Financial Field turned, red, white and blue for an evening.

And the U.S. men’s national team delivered, riding a first-half Clint Dempsey goal and a staunch defensive effort after going down a man to beat Paraguay, 1-0, in front of 51,041 fans at the Linc on Saturday, booking passage into the quarterfinals of Copa America Centenario.

Later in the night, the Americans learned they won a very competitive Group A when Costa Rica upset Colombia in a 3-2 thriller. That means the USMNT’s semifinal matchup will be held Thursday in Seattle vs. a to-be-determined opponent.

“I’m just thrilled for the team because they really did deserve that,” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “They deserved that win tonight. We held them basically down a man for pretty much the whole second half. We even created chances to score a second one. This is a huge statement to teams in South America or whoever watches it on TV. This team has fantastic spirit, they have character.”

The U.S. - who lost to Colombia and trounced Costa Rica in their first two games of the tournament that features the top national teams from North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean - got on the board in the 27th minute when Gyasi Zardes made a nice move along the sideline before playing a low-driven cross across the box to Clint Dempsey, whose left-footed strike slid underneath goalie Justo Villar.

That lead held up throughout but not without plenty of nervous moments.

While clinging to their tenuous one-goal advantage, the U.S. were dealt a big blow when DeAndre Yedlin was called for two yellow cards in a one-minute span and was sent off in the 48th minute.

Michael Orozco - a former Union defender who played in the first-ever MLS game at Lincoln Financial Field back in 2010 - was called upon two minutes later to help the Americans preserve their lead.

“Although we got a red card, I had faith we were still gonna come out of that game winning,” Zardes said. “Our team is very disciplined and we adjusted. Our coaches had a gameplan and we just utilized it.”

It was Zardes who actually had the best chance at the game’s second goal. But the LA Galaxy striker, who’s been criticized throughout his USMNT tenure for a poor first touch, couldn’t put a shot on net after being left open and sprung free in front of the goal by Bobby Wood.

The game turned chippy for long stretches after that with Wood, especially, getting heated after getting tackled from behind a couple of times, only one of which resulted in a yellow card. Wood was then booked with a yellow of his own for arguing.

Klinsmann didn’t mind all the cards - nine in all and six shown to his team - although he did concede that Yedlin showed “inexperience” with his two yellows, which will keep him on the sideline for the quarterfinals.

“He just lost his head for a second,” Klinsmann said. “This is why you are young. You’ve got to give him that benefit of the doubt. You’ve got to give him that credit. He will learn from that mistake. Just cool down for a couple of minutes and find your path in the game again.”

Things could have ended up far worse for the U.S. after Yedlin’s ejection if not for a huge game from goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who got the starting nod for the tournament over longtime star Tim Howard.

Guzan came up with a clutch double-save in the 82nd minute as U.S. players on the bench jumped off their feet to celebrate. He also made a couple of big stops on striker Dario Lezcano in the first half to preserve the shutout.

“In any win, as a goalkeeper, you’re called upon to try to make a save or two,” Guzan said. “Fortunately, I was able to do that.”

Guzan also got a whole lot of his help from his backline, particularly 23-year-old center back John Brooks, who was named the man of the match.

In the 11th minute, Brooks came through with perhaps the game’s most memorable play when he made up a ton of ground to thwart a Paraguay 3-on-1 break and make a potentially goal-saving slide tackle.

Afterwards, Klinsmann hailed the play as “something special” and praised the growth of Brooks, who scored a big goal at the 2014 World Cup but struggled at times during last summer’s Gold Cup.

“You’re impressed by the learning curve a young player goes through and you’re just happy about that process,” Klinsmann said. “A year ago, a lot of people were very critical of him. And, as I said, he has to have those experiences. He needs to make mistakes to grow. There’s no growth without failure - for anybody.”

The Americans’ best first-half chance came in the 23rd minute when, after Paraguay was whistled for a handball right in front of the box, Dempsey pushed a free kick just high.

But the veteran striker made it up for four minutes later with his 51st goal in a USA jersey, electrifying the Philly crowd and keeping the Americans' hopes of winning a major international trophy alive.

Now, with world powers like Brazil and Argentina standing in their way in the knockout round, the question is how far the U.S. can go.

“The whole old story is the underdog story,” Klinsmann said. “I cannot hear that story anymore. I want to see them risk things. Let’s go for it. If you’re not going for it, sooner or later, they are going to break you down because they have class players. So, no, take the game to them. That’s the learning curve.

“The knockout stage is mental driven. It’s an absolute mental game. It’s when you step on the field and see certain jerseys, it’s kind of sniffing at each other and saying, ‘I’m ready for you.’ This is all about the moment, and this is what they need to believe in.”

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