Houston - United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann believes his team need more regular fixtures against top-class competition if they are to stand any chance of joining world football's elite.
Klinsmann's men bowed out of the Copa America Centenario on Tuesday after being outclassed 4-0 by a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina, barely laying a glove on the South Americans in 90 one-sided minutes.
It was a bitterly disappointing exit for Klinsmann, who had spent the tournament's previous weeks encouraging his players to believe they could go toe-to-toe with the world's best teams.
But the US side were unable to manage a single shot either on or off target throughout the entire game, just one grim statistic from Tuesday's mauling that highlighted the yawning chasm in class.
Klinsmann said his team had given Argentina "too much respect" after suffering the hammer blow of an early goal after only three minutes.
"Hopefully we can play these teams every year," he said. "When you play them on a regular basis, I think the respect gets smaller and smaller."
"The more often we can play this caliber of team, the more we're going to learn and the more the players will be confident to take them on," he added.
"This is just a process. If we can get a friendly with Argentina or Brazil let's do it. Even if we get given a lesson here and there, it's part of our process."
"I think our players learned a lot tonight."
'STEP ON THEIR TOES'
Already forced to improvise a new-look line-up after the suspension of Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya, Klinsmann's game plan went out the window when Ezequiel Lavezzi headed Argentina into the lead after only three minutes.
"I think you could clearly see when we went 1-0 down, we had far too much respect and they were able to play their game," Klinsmann said.
"After the first goal, we were trying to scream into the field 'Go at them, become physical, step on their toes, anything.'"
Klinsmann cited the example of Messi's magnificent free-kick, which put the Argentinians 2-0 up midway through the first half.
The US coach said his team had failed to spot Argentina's players moving the position of the dead ball into shooting range.
"I think in general we had too much respect and that shows in little incidents," he said. "The free-kick from Messi they pushed five yards up one step at a time," he added.
"I was screaming at the referee and the fourth official and that's why he's suddenly in range for shooting that goal."
"If he's five yards back, he doesn't score that goal," Klinsmann said. "Those are little things that we have to try and figure out. We're just too nice, too nice in those moments."
However, the team's failure to reach the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia have hurt Klinsmann's hopes of securing top-class competition in the future.
'NO SHAME IN DEFEAT'
The US side were defeated in a playoff for a place in the event by Mexico, meaning that the only competitive fixtures the United States will have heading into 2018 World Cup will come in qualifiers from the CONCACAF region.
However, Klinsmann - whose position is likely to come under renewed scrutiny following Tuesday's loss - said his players had not been disgraced.
"I told the guys there's nothing to be ashamed of," he said. "We have to learn and move forward. We're very grateful to this Copa America to be part of it and we made it to the final four.
"There will always be a step backwards and then two more steps forward," he added. "That's part of the process. We have to keep our heads up and swallow it."