Copa América
USMNT confident they're better than 2-0 margin in first win of 2024 Copa América
Copa América

USMNT confident they're better than 2-0 margin in first win of 2024 Copa América

Updated Jun. 24, 2024 10:57 a.m. ET

ARLINGTON, Tex. — With the hood of his U.S. national team tracksuit up and his eyes set straight ahead, Ricardo Pepi was in no mood to talk as he walked past reporters following the Americans' Copa América-opening 2-0 win over Bolivia on Sunday.

Pepi's silence was understandable. The 21-year-old goal machine led all of European club soccer in scoring off the bench last season. But here in his home state on Sunday, the former FC Dallas man had the sort of night every striker sometimes does. The ball just wouldn't go in, with Bolivian keeper Guillermo Viscarra stopping him on four separate occasions after Pepi entered as a substitute in the second half.

None of Pepi's teammates could pad the USMNT's lead, either.

And while it's difficult to be critical of the home team in a game where, as coach Gregg Berhalter correctly said afterward, the outcome was "never in doubt," the cold hard reality of major tournament play is that missing out on another goal or two could come back to bite the U.S. later in the competition — not that they were ruing the squandered chances following the match.


"I don't think any of us are really concerned about that right now," said midfielder Gio Reyna.  "On another day, we score maybe one or two more."

"There's no disappointment," Berhalter said. "For us, it's just about analyzing and improving. I talked about one of our objectives throughout this tournament was to keep trying to get better. So I like the performance for an opening game."  

United States vs. Bolivia Highlights

U.S. captain Christian Pulisic sought out Pepi after one of Viscarra's saves, seemingly encouraging the forward to keep his head held high. "As a striker, the problem is when you don't get chances," Pulisic said. "That's what would be more frustrating. He's going to score in a big moment, so I'm not worried for one second."

Starting striker Folarin Balogun took his goal with confidence-boosting aplomb. Josh Sargent, the third center forward on the roster, said on Sunday that he's "ready to go" after recovering from foot and ankle injuries.

Still, the margins at the highest level are razor-thin. Goal difference in the group stage serves as the tiebreaker should two teams finish even on points following the first round. And the way the 2024 Copa América bracket is set up, whichever squad finishes second in Group C is likely to face Group D favorite Brazil in its first knockout game. The hosts tied the five-time world champions in their last pre-Copa friendly, but beating the Seleção in an elimination game is a much taller order. The all-time U.S. record against Brazil in competitive matches is an ugly 1-9.

The USMNT next faces Panama on Thursday. A win by any scoreline in Atlanta will qualify the Americans for the quarterfinals with one first-round game to spare. The group winner would then be determined in the first-round finale against Uruguay, which beat the Panamanians 3-1 in Miami on Sunday night.

Did the USMNT prove they can make a DEEP tournament run?

Beat Uruguay and goal difference won't matter. Tie La Celeste — the bookies pick to win this Copa América after Argentina and Brazil — and the road to the semifinals could be significantly bumpier.

No knockout games are easy, obviously. The U.S. has to get there first. The Americans now have their sights trained on Panama and Panama alone, not the prospect of potentially facing Brazil or Colombia (or Costa Rica or Paraguay) in the quarters.

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"We're not looking at those teams right now," Pulisic said. "We have to win the group first. We have to make it out. So right now it's Panama, and then it's Uruguay."

What happens after that is anyone's guess.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered the United States men's and women's national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him at @ByDougMcIntyre. 


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