Copa Kickoff: US 0, Colombia 2

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The United States lost a dull game to Colombia off two set-piece goals to open the Copa America Centenario. It’s difficult to know exactly what to make of the US performance, which was generally impressive against a much more talented side, but offered very little threat in the final third.

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Jürgen Klinsmann set the United States out in the 4-3-3, as had been anticipated from recent friendlies. His midfield three played conservatively to begin with, only one of Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya pushing forward at a time. Before the game was properly started, however, Colombia had gone ahead from a corner kick made possible by a lapse from Geoff Cameron, probably still the best US player on the night. From there, Columbia sat back while the United States opened up to a more conventional midfield triangle. The US looked very much Colombia’s equal for the rest of the first half, and were probably the better side right up to Deandre Yedlin’s unfortunate (though deserved) hand ball, giving James Rodríguez a penalty to put Colombia two goals up before halftime.

Colombia started the second half with a brief pro-active spurt, probably spurred by Edwin Cardona moving into the center and James Rodríguez shifting out left. Cardona, who plays for Liga MX Clausura winners Monterrey, was probably Colombia’s most significant threat on the day, and this change was surely designed to ensure two-way play through the middle.

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Edwin Cardona squares off against Deandre Yedlin

The spurt was short-lived, though Colombia remained more dangerous on the counter than they had been in the first half. Clint Dempsey finally put the first US shot on goal with a 60′ header that Sebastián Pérez cleared off the line, and he forced a nice save out of David Ospina at 63′ with the only free kick all evening that he didn’t put into the wall. On the whole, Dempsey didn’t not impress as a central striker. But then neither did anyone else, certainly not fan favorites Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe, who came on at 66′ to refresh the left side of the US attack.

At 68′, James Rodríguez dislocated his shoulder and had to leave the game at 73′, prompting Colombia to shift to a 4-3-3 with Pérez advancing alongside Cardona. The Unites States moved Gyasi Zardes up top alongside Dempsey, with Alejandro Bedoya shifting out right, but this made little difference either and the game ended as it had at halftime. Presumably, most neutrals wished they had stopped watching then.

So the United States held their own in open play against a Colombia side that, while far from deserving their FIFA #3 ranking, are expected to make the semifinals. Colombia did not look at their best, and with a two-goal lead in the second half were never called on to pressure the US. But even with those caveats, it is hard to remember the United States looking as controlled in possession against a side of comparable quality in tournament play, and they did a good job of limiting and defending against counter-attacking chances (notwithstanding Bacca’s 77′ breakaway shot off the underside of the crossbar).

Yet the inability of United States to look even mildly threatening in attack is gravely worrying. The failure of Pulisic and Nagbe to revitalize the US attack is particularly worrying, as it raises significant concerns about how Klinsmann might address his side’s shortcomings. As Kevin McCauley wrote for SBNation, Klinsmann made the changes that fans have wanted, and the US lost anyway. The challenges facing the United States (in this tournament and in general) are not simply a matter of his mismanagement.

Group A Round-up

In terms of advancing, the result was not overly significant. In almost any scenario, the key game would have been Tuesday’s tilt with Costa Rica. Their 0-0 result against Paraguay, especially with the late red card for Kendall Waston, is an ideal result for the United States. At the same time Paraguay has demonstrated that they will not offer an easy three points in the final group game.

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Because of the poor quality of line-up description on Fox News, I include the tactical formations from that game below: Costa Rica was in a defensive 3-4-3, while Paraguay was in a 4-4-2 that operated as a 4-2-2-2 in the first half.

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