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Copa America preview: USMNT vs Ecuador could be biggest match in Seattle soccer history

Sounders star Clint Dempsey leads the USMNT into a gigantic Copa America quarterfinal with Ecuador. (AP)

In what could possibly be the biggest match in Seattle soccer history, the Copa America Centenario quarterfinal on Thursday between the United States and Ecuador gives the Emerald City a chance to show off its love of the beautiful game. Ticket prices could limit the attendance from reaching its potential, but I still expect Seattle to rock CenturyLink on Thursday. Nobody really expected this match to happen, but Costa Rica’s upset of Colombia handed the group (and Seattle) to the US on a silver platter.

The USMNT has had a pretty solid Copa, despite the humiliating 2-0 loss to Colombia that opened the tournament. A 4-0 trouncing of Costa Rica and a slim 1-0 defeat of Paraguay gave the Americans the points needed to go through to the quarters. The Sounders’ Clint Dempsey has been the US’s star man in the last two matches, scoring twice and assisting on two more goals. Seattle will not only be in a raucous mood to root for its country, it will also be bursting at the seams to cheer for Dempsey. Unfortunately, former Sounder and hometown boy DeAndre Yedlin won’t be playing as his red card against Paraguay means he’s suspended for the match.

Ecuador held strong to get out of its group; a draw against Brazil early in the tournament proved to be huge, and enough to knock the juggernaut out of the tournament after Peru defeated Brazil. Ecuador did well to hold off the rest of the group — a big win over Haiti and tight 2-2 draw with Peru sealed its place in the quarters. A solid foundation of Europe-based star players is filled out by lots of experience, making Ecuador a perennial dark horse in major tournaments.

Here are four things to watch for on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., when CenturyLink Field hosts possibly the most important soccer match in its history:

1. The USA’s pre-tournament win over Ecuador means nothing now. The USMNT’s final pre-tournament tune-up match was a 1-0 win against Ecuador, when Darlington Nagbe’s brilliant late goal covered up a mostly forgettable performance by the Americans. Ecuador has been firing on all cylinders since that match, and revenge will add to the must-win mindset it will have in this quarterfinal.

2. John Brooks and the US defense must continue great form. The hero in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup, United States defender John Brooks has been sensational thus far in the Copa. His rare center back speed, combined with his aerial ability and strong leadership, makes Brooks absolutely crucial to the USA’s form — the Americans will need it even more against a scary quick Ecuador attack. With Yedlin suspended and Geoff Cameron’s relative lack of speed, it’ll be down to Brooks to stop Enner Valencia, Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia from getting the drop on the USMNT.

3. Seattle’s crowd could tip the scales. It’s been three years since the USMNT played a match in Seattle. The last one, a 2-0 win over Panama in 2014 World Cup Qualifying, is still talked about as one of the most exciting USMNT atmospheres in recent memory. The state of soccer in America means that more often than not, home crowds are anti-USMNT. This seems especially true in places like Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles. Seattle, despite being every bit as diverse as some of those cities, is all in for the USA, however. A 50-50 split of support is a lot to ask for in some cities, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least 80 percent of the crowd at CenturyLink will support the United States.

4. A mostly unchanged lineup. Even after the loss to Colombia in the opening match, Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t changed his starting lineup at all in this tournament. One change will be necessary — Yedlin’s suspension means he’ll be replaced, likely by Michael Orozco. The other question is whether or not players on a yellow card should be dropped in the event that the USA makes it to the semifinals. The players on yellow cards heading into the quarterfinal are Orozco, Brooks, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley and Bobby Wood. Despite that, I don’t think Klinsmann will alter much in the lineup, despite the chance that some of the team will be pretty tired after three exhausting matches in the tournament so far. I do, however, think he’ll start the team in something closer to a 4-4-2, rather than the the 4-3-3 started in the other three matches. Wood isn’t a winger, and he will probably be at his best if played alongside Dempsey up top. Zardes will move down and play as a wide midfielder, likely opposite Bedoya.

Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.