Zardes: Ecuador clash a 'championship game'

Zardes, a mainstay in Jurgen Klinsmann's starting line-up, said: "It's a huge accomplishment to get to the quarterfinals. It's one of our biggest games to date. We're treating it like a championship game."

GyasiZardes - Cropped

United States star Gyasi Zardes is counting on another strong collective defensive effort from USA, which has won six of its past seven matches courtesy of five clean sheets.

The United States is treating its Copa America Centenario quarterfinal against Ecuador as a "championship game", though star forward Gyasi Zardes insists the tournament host is not dwelling on past results.

Seattle's CenturyLink Field is the venue for Thursday's last-eight clash, with Zardes and Co. looking to match the feat of the 1995 USA team, which progressed to the Copa America semifinals.

USA has not buckled under pressure amid the weight of growing expectations at the centenary tournament on home soil, qualifying for the quarters as winners of Group A after seeing off Paraguay 1-0 and dismantling Costa Rica 4-0, having lost to Colombia in the curtain-raiser.

And as USA prepares to lock horns with Ecuador, Zardes – a mainstay in Jurgen Klinsmann's starting line-up – told Omnisport: "It's a huge accomplishment to get to the quarterfinals. It's one of our biggest games to date. We're treating it like a championship game."

Klinsmann's USA has silenced its critics en route to the quarters.

The knives were out as soon as the final whistle sounded at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on June 3 after USA went down 2-0 to 2001 champions Colombia. USA was given little hope of making it out of the group but Zardes said his team-mates never lost faith.

"You know what, it's crazy, we played an amazing game against Colombia. They scored off two set-pieces," the 24-year-old LA Galaxy star said.

"I think our fans had faith in us, they always believed. We always believed. Our coaching staff is always positive and after that result, they were already looking ahead to the next game and getting us prepared."

USA is no stranger to staging tournaments, you only have to look back to last year, when the Americans co-hosted the CONCACAF Gold Cup alongside Canada. That campaign did not go according to plan for Klinsmann's men, who watched rivals Mexico reign supreme after failing to advance beyond the semifinals.

It was the first time USA had not made the final since 2003 but fast forward 12 months and Zardes said the Americans are not motivated by their Gold Cup failure. "The way I see it, we leave the past in the past and we're only thinking about the future and moving forward," the 28-cap international said.

"The present day, we're motivated by the guys in this camp and the coaching staff talking to us and telling us how big this accomplishment is.

"I don't think we're really thinking about Gold Cup. That was so last year. This is a huge tournament and a different platform.

"It's hard to say we're motivated by the Gold Cup, because this is now, it's current, so that's enough motivation for us."

USA and Ecuador met in a pre-Copa America friendly last month, with the former triumphing 1-0 thanks to a late Darlington Nagbe strike, but Zardes knows Thursday's showdown will be a completely different ballgame as both teams vie for a semifinal meeting with either 14-time champion Argentina or Venezuela.

Zardes, though, is counting on another strong collective defensive effort from USA, which has won six of its past seven matches courtesy of five clean sheets.

"We have a great backline, and great midfielders, and even our forwards come back to help. You can see that we're a team that plays together and sticks together," he added.

"I definitely feel like in the last game, when we were down a man [against Paraguay following DeAndre Yedlin's red card], our defensive efforts were superb."

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