USA vs. Colombia | Copa America Centenario Match Preview
The roster has been named, and the tune-up friendlies are in the books. The only thing left for the US national team to do is actually kick off the Copa America Centenario.
They’ll do just that on Friday night, when they host Colombia in the tournament opener and Group A headliner at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Friday’s winners will place themselves firmly in the driver’s seat to win Group A, while the losers will enter into what should be a pitched battle for second place. A draw, of course, would leave things a little more muddled.
Colombia will be a really significant test for the US. The darlings of the 2014 World Cup, Los Cafeteros have gotten off to a bit of an uneven start in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, but they still have plenty of talent across the board. James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado are tremendous players, both capable of taking over a match at any moment. The metric may be a bit flawed, but there’s a reason this team is ranked No. 3 in the current world FIFA rankings, 28 spots ahead of the No. 31 US.
Here are three things we’re looking at in advance of Friday’s opener:
Who will start for the USMNT?
As our own Matt Doyle so eloquently put it earlier this week, Jurgen Klinsmann still lives in “CrazyTown” when it comes to picking USMNT lineups. The serial tinkerer is constantly tweaking his formation, moving players in and out of their preferred positions, and is apparently allergic to settling on a back four.
Jurgen Klinsmann has not started same back four in consecutive matches since 2014 World Cup. Streak now at 32 games.#USMNT— John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) May 28, 2016
Klinsmann will no doubt have an ace or two up his sleeve on Friday night, but at least a few positions appear to be already worked out. We know Brad Guzan will be in net and DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks and Fabian Johnson will most likely start along the back four.
From there, it gets a bit tricky. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley will be involved in the midfield, of course, but whether Bradley plays in his preferred defensive midfield spot (unlikely) or higher up the field (probable) remains to be seen. How he’s deployed will affect the rest of the midfield and will be impacted by Klinsmann’s decisions on whether to start holding mid Kyle Beckerman, the more creative Alejandro Bedoya, wide man Graham Zusi or young guns Darlington Nagbe or Christian Pulisic.
Klinsmann also faces some tough choices up top. Let’s assume he sticks with the one striker and two wingers we’ve seen in recent matches. In that formation, Clint Dempsey will likely play a central role, Bobby Wood will probably be on one flank and Gyasi Zardes, Bedoya, Zusi or even Nagbe or Pulisic could be in contention to start on the other.
Regardless of how he trots them out against Colombia, don’t get too comfortable with the setup. Change has been the only constant of the Klinsmann era, and with the US facing a quick turnaround ahead of their second match, we’ll likely see a different group against Costa Rica next Tuesday.
Which James will show up?
He’s by no means their only talented player, but James Rodriguez does tend to make things go for Colombia. When he’s on, as he was so memorably during the World Cup two years ago, Colombia can be fantastic.
It’s no sure thing that he’ll be firing on all cylinders on Friday, however. The 24-year-old struggled a bit down the stretch for Real Madrid, starting just six times in the Champions League winners' final 18 matches across all competitions. He played well for Colombia in their World Cup qualifiers in March, recording a goal and two assists in wins over Ecuador and Bolivia, but that was more than two months ago. He hasn’t been in Colombia camp very long, only arriving on Sunday following Real’s win over Atlético Madrid in the Champions League final in Milan on Saturday. If he’s short of his best on Friday, it’ll be a big boost for the US’s chances.
Will an American star be born?
In 2002, it was Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley. The 2006 World Cup brought the rise of Clint Dempsey. Michael Bradley really cemented himself on the scene in South Africa in 2010. In 2014, already-established vets Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones turned themselves into household names in the States.
Every major tournament the USMNT competes in is an opportunity for an American player to take their career to new heights. The Copa America Centenario will be no different, and several young American players should have the platform to excel. Brooks, Nagbe and Pulisic will have their chances, but, given their positions and current form, Yedlin and Wood might be best positioned for star turns on Friday.