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The U.S. is eliminated from Copa America, increasing the pressure to fire its coach

Coach Gregg Berhalter of the United States greets goalkeeper Matt Turner after losing 0-1 against Uruguay at the end of a Copa America Group C soccer match in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday.
Reed Hoffman/AP
FR48783 AP
Coach Gregg Berhalter of the United States greets goalkeeper Matt Turner after losing 0-1 against Uruguay at the end of a Copa America Group C soccer match in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The United States was eliminated from the Copa America with a 1-0 loss to Uruguay on Mathías Olivera's questionable second-half goal Monday night, a defeat sure to increase pressure on the U.S. Soccer Federation to remove coach Gregg Berhalter before the 2026 World Cup.

Uruguay scored in the 66th minute when Nicolas De La Cruz swung a free kick in front of the U.S. goal. Matt Turner parried a header by Ronald Araújo, who out-jumped defender Tim Ream, but the rebound went right to Mathias Olivera and he tapped the ball in with his left foot.

Olivera appeared to be offside on the initial header but the goal stood after a video review.

Using a lineup of players entirely from European clubs, Berhalter and the U.S. hoped to show the team had advanced since its round-of-16 elimination against the Netherlands at the 2022 World Cup. Instead, the U.S. managed only a 2-0 win over lowly Bolivia and were upset 2-1 by Panama, putting it in a tough situation Monday night.

“We had a good start and brought a lot of energy but at the end of the day, just not enough quality,” U.S. captain Christian Pulisic said. “I felt like we gave it everything but we just couldn't score.”

Three minutes before Uruguay scored, the U.S. was in position to advance when Bruno Miranda tied the score for Bolivia against Panama in a game that started simultaneously in Orlando, Florida. But Panama went on to a 3-1 victory and claimed the second spot in Group C behind Uruguay.

Berhalter was rehired in June 2023 and given a contract through the upcoming World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host with Canada and Mexico. But despite a lineup that included Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, the U.S. failed to even match its last Copa America appearance, when it lost to Argentina in the 2016 semifinals.

During the second half Monday night, the home crowd began chanting, “Fire Gregg.”

The U.S. next plays September friendlies against Canada and New Zealand.

Uruguay played without coach Marcelo Biesla, suspended for sending his team out late for the second half of its first two games. Diego Reyes and Pablo Quiroga were in charge on a mild but humid night in Kansas City.

Berhalter and the Americans knew the difficulty of their situation — Pulisic at one point said they would need to play “the best game of our lives” to advance — and they looked like a team with nothing to lose for most of the first half.

It was one marked by physical play and questionable calls.

Folarin Balogun, who had two goals already in the tournament, bore the brunt of several challenges. He was left calling for help after a collision with Uruguayan goalkeeper Sergio Rochet, then was left rolling on the field after Araújo’s challenge later in the half. Balogun eventually had to leave with a hip pointer and Ricardo Pepi took his place.

Uruguay lost Maximilliano Araújo earlier in the half after a scary collision with Ream near the U.S. goal. He had to be taken off the field on a stretcher, though he was able to move his arms before heading up the tunnel.

In the middle of the chaos was 32-year-old Peruvian referee Kevin Ortega, whose several questionable calls hurt the U.S.

The first came when Ortega began to pull a yellow card and stop play, then allowed it to continue — while still holding the card — as Uruguay nearly scored on an attack. The second came when the U.S. had a clear advantage after a hand ball on Uruguay, but the Peruvian referee eventually blew his whistle and called the play back for a free kick.

Antonee Robinson called it “amateur hour” but lamented the Americans' failure to rise above the referee.

“The result is on us,” he said, “and we weren't good enough.”

Uruguay started to apply more pressure midway through the second half, then had the Americans in desperation mode after Olivera found the back of the net. And while the U.S. had a few good runs, and a couple of good opportunities in the box, a team that had such big expectations was unable to find the two goals it needed — or even one.

“I mean, now it's just about getting a little bit of rest and regrouping and finding an identity again, and we have some big things ahead,” Pulisic said. “We're going to look forward to that.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]