US’ Midterms begin as USMNT opens Copa America Centenario against Colombia

By
Updated: June 3, 2016
home-marquee-logo-_x160

(TALLAHASSEE)

School may be out for the kids, but for the US Men’s National Team, their mid-terms are just beginning.a.espncdn.com

The Squad opens up play for the 2016 Copa America Centenario tonight (9pm EDT, Fox Sports 1) in Santa Clara against James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadadro and 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists, Colombia.  The US has, once again, been drawn into a difficult group opening against the talented Cafeteros, another 2014 World Cup quarter-finalist, Costa Rica in Chicago on June 7 and finishing up against Paraguay a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

The tournament, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the South American championship known as the Copa America is being played across the US. Matches will be held in the aforementioned cities as well as Orlando, Seattle, New York and Houston where the semifinals will be played before returning to Chicago for the Final on June 22.

Despite the fact that it is being played in the middle of World Cup Qualifying for the CONCACAF nations, and a year after the regular Copa America tournament won by Chile, this tournament, being billed as a championship of the Americas, is being taken seriously by a number of nations.  The various CONMEBOL and CONCACAF nations, including Caribbean sides, Haiti and Jamaica are sending top sides and a number of recognizable stars will be stateside competing.  Lionel Messi and Angel DiMaria will spearhead a talented Argentine side.  Brazil will be missing Neymar who will lead Brazil in its quest to win the Olympic gold medal for the first time but still will boast the likes of Wilian, Hulk and Dani Alves. Uruguay will be represented by the likes of Edison Cavani, Diego Godin and of course the Vampire himself, Luis Suarez.  Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez will be there for Chile.  El Enemigo is bringing a very strong side as well, counting on the likes of Oribe Peralta, Andres Guardado and Javiar “Chicharito” Hernandez.  The Reggae Boyz, 2015 Gold Cup finalists will be looking to make further progress as they eye a spot in the 2018 World Cup and may catch some teams by surprise as well. Haiti, will be playing with absolutely nothing to lose.

home-marquee-logo-_x160

All the better for the US. Having lost their chance to represent CONCACAF at the 2017 Confederations Cup, this tournament will give the US a chance to gage their progress against some of the top sides in the world.  The tournament will also be seen as a referendum on Jurgen Klinsmann’s progress as coach.

Let’s be real: The US has struggled since the 2014 World Cup. Though they’ve claimed some nice wins in friendlies, they’ve been less than impressive in the games that matter. In World Cup Qualifying the Squad currently sits second in their preliminary group, behind Trinidad and Tobago and have never demonstrated the expected progression after qualifying from a difficult group two years ago.  The attack has been inconsistent, the back line has been a revolving door of sorts and some players have been played out of position to minimal success.  All of this was exposed by the US’ disappointing fourth place finish at the Gold Cup and it hasn’t been much better since. US fans have endured overly defensive displays a against good teams (as was the case against Mexico in the Gold Cup playoff match) and some seemingly less than inspired efforts against lesser teams, evidenced by  the away loss to Guatemala in World Cup Qualifying. To say that the knives have been drawn would be an understatement.

JK has long touted the importance of this tournament for the team’s development (and, though unstated, for his own job security) and has picked an experienced side. 14 players from the 2014 World Cup side return including Clint Dempsey, Matt Besler, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley and DeAndre Yedlin but some important newcomers are present as well and could see some important minutes. Darlington Nagbe of the Portland Timbers has been called in as has 17 year old Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund.  While Omar Gonzalez was left off, Edgar Castillo and Michael Orozco both of whom play in Mexico are also on the team.

Several Black players in addition to Nagbe have been named and will see some significant time.  While Tim Howard is the #2 goalkeeper behind Brad Guzan, and indifferent form and injury have combined to keep Jozy Altidore off this roster, World Cup stalwarts Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones are both back. Zyasi Zardes of the LA Galaxy should start at least two of the group stage matches. John Brooks, who scored the match-winner against Ghana in 2014 and has enjoyed an excellent season at Hertha Berlin looks to have locked down a starting position in the center of the defense.

John Brooks: Expectations abound this summer

John Brooks: Expectations abound this summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The US has its work cut out for them as they once again try to navigate their way out of a difficult group. Their ability to maintain posessession and regain it quickly once they have lost it will be key, especially against a quick and talented Colombian side that, like several of the teams in the tournament, will have significant crowd support.  Bobby Wood is going to be looked upon to score goals in the absence of Altidore and the back line needs to demonstrate a very quick understanding and cohesiveness.  With Michael Bradley most likely being moved further back in the midfield it’ll be up to players Jermaine Jones and possibly Nagbe to demonstrate some creativity in the midfield and provide scoring chances for the likes of Zardes, Wood and Dempsey.

Copa America  Centenario promises to be a fun tournament with some excellent players gracing the stadiums of the US. With the ultimate goal of a deep run in Russia in 2018, this is an important test on several levels for the US players and JK.

Let the examinations begin.

___________________

pregameheadshot

 

 

 

 

Andrew Dixon, III is a soccer writer based in Tallahassee, FL and has contributed articles to BASN since 2004. He previously authored a column “One Grown Man” at USSoccerPlayers.Com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>