By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 24, 2016) US Soccer Players – How do you ask a team that was just humbled on their own turf by the best player in the world to play in a consolation game that has questionable value to everyone involved? How do you guarantee that the participants will take it seriously, and not just go through the motions? How, once the game is finished and third-place awarded, does a wounded soccer nation properly analyze the results of a game no one really wants to play in?
Answers: “Nicely”, “You can’t”, and “Who the hell knows?”
When the USMNT takes the field against Colombia on Saturday in Glendale, AZ, most thoughts will be about each team’s previous performance. In the case of Los Cafeteros, resentment about a 2-0 semifinal loss to Chile in a game significantly impacted by weather will still simmer. James Rodriguez and company have a least some reason to be upset about the way things went down in Chicago, whether it be because of the refereeing, long rhythm-destroying break, or the resulting field conditions once the game resumed. It can’t be easy to stage a comeback in six inches of water.
For the Americans, a few days will hardly be enough time to fully process the hiding handed them by Lionel Messi and Argentina. Getting back up emotionally for a game that will only marginally impact how people think about the USMNT’s Copa Centenario run will require a short memory and a decent dose of self-delusion. When the captain of the team is questioning the need for a third place game following the semifinals, it doesn’t bode well for game played at the highest levels of effort.
The last time the United States played in a third place match, at last year’s Gold Cup, they lost to Panama on penalties. We’ve most put that game out of our minds for good reason. Would a win have made any difference? The same holds true for the match against Colombia. A semifinal berth in the special edition Copa is nothing to be ashamed of, but the way the USMNT lost to Argentina means their tournament run ended on a sour note. If they can beat Colombia, not only would it avenge a group stage loss, it would return some luster to the team’s tourney performance. Sort of? Maybe? Are we right back to that simple problem with a consolation game?
This will inform how Klinsmann will lineup his team on Saturday. With Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood available, there’s no reason to think the head coach won’t go back to the lineup that found success against Costa Rica and Paraguay in the group stage. A 4-3-3 hybrid formation with Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, and Johnson at the back, Jones, Bradley and Bedoya in the midfield, and Wood, Dempsey, and Zardes across the top helped the team to two wins in Copa America. If not for the suspensions picked up in the quarterfinal round, would have been on the field against Argentina on Tuesday night.
With the lower stakes of the third place game, there’s really no reason for Klinsmann not to give Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic a start to see what they can do from the beginning of a match against a quality opponent. That probably doesn’t mean much to the USMNT boss, however. With a chance at earning a little more respect and putting a small bow on their Copa America experience, expect Klinsmann to trot out a group he has shown he trusts.
Colombia’s Jose Pekerman will be under his own load of pressure to salvage something from the tournament after the flat performance against Chile. At the same time, the stars that litter his team will want to protect their health ahead of another long European season, getting underway in just a couple months’ time. It wouldn’t exactly be a shock to see a Colombia lineup without James Rodriguez in it. Of course, if Colombia doesn’t play a first-choice team, it limits how much value the Americans can take out of the game.
There’s another way to look at the game for Klinsmann and the USMNT. Not quite as a friendly, but as a chance to try out a few things in a game of almost no consequence ahead of the resumption of World Cup qualifying in September. In one of his patented “man of the people” Facebook addresses on Thursday, Klinsmann said there are currently no plans to play friendlies ahead of the game against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago in the first week of September. Neither of those games should overly tax the Americans, but there’s still plenty to figure out with a spot in the Hexagonal still to be won.
A tactical preview of the USMNT vs Colombia isn’t necessary. We’ve seen this game before. We know the USMNT needs to keep Colombia off the scoreboard early and try to impose their game. In both of their losses in Copa America, the USMNT gave up a soft early tally that set the tone for the rest of the game. Not only is the USMNT not built to play from behind, but Colombia is more than capable of slowing down the game, putting their foot on the ball, and denying the United States any real opportunity to make a comeback.
Klinsmann’s choices will determine how seriously we should take this game. There’s no reason to argue a win isn’t important, if only as a way to add distance to the blowout in Houston.
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