Copa America Centenario Game 1 preview: USMNT vs Colombia
As one of the biggest international soccer tournaments comes to the USA this summer, I’ll be doing previews of all the matches of interest to Sounders fans. From teams with current players (USA, Paraguay) to teams with potential future players (as with Nicolas Lodeiro of Uruguay) to the matches being played in Seattle, keep an eye out for all Copa America Centenario updates.
First off, because the United States is hosting the tournament, they get to open the tournament Friday, with a group A matchup against Colombia in Santa Clara. The United States National Team will be wanting a morale-boosting result at home against one of the best teams in the world, while Colombia surely wants to stamp their authority heading into the 2018 World Cup.
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m., Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
Not much introduction is needed for the home team here, as soccer fans around the country eagerly wait to see how the USMNT can do in such a prestigious tournament against a very good opponent. Jurgen Klinsmann endured heavy criticism for his team selection, especially for leaving out Sounders’ Jordan Morris in favor of San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski. But the team looked sharp in pre-tournament friendlies, and if the cards fall in their favor, a win over Colombia is certainly possible.
• Sounders players: Forward Clint Dempsey will likely start in this match, despite his fairly mediocre form for Seattle this season. Former Sounder and Seattle native DeAndre Yedlin, who broke out with the national team at the 2014 World Cup, will almost certainly start at right-back throughout the tournament.
• Captain: Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley took over as captain after Klinsmann removed the honor from Dempsey after his antics and subsequent suspension in the Sounders’ infamous US Open Cup loss to the Timbers in 2015.
• One to watch: Honolulu-born, Germany-based striker Bobby Wood has been on fire for the US lately, and I would honestly be surprised if he didn’t start against Colombia. It’s taken the young forward time to grow both for club and country, but he’s in red hot form after a great season at Union Berlin that earned him a transfer to top-flight German club Hamburger SV.
• Biggest weakness: Probably the defense – the USMNT hasn’t conceded very many goals as of late (against mostly weaker teams), but the defense has been shuffled around so much it’s hard to grasp just how strong it will be against a team like Colombia. It’s a fairly mixed bag right now with not too much experience – Yedlin, who is only 22, has the third-most caps among eight defenders on the roster.
Currently ranked third in the world by FIFA, Colombia fields an excellent squad with players based at some of the best teams in the world. They reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup and the last two Copa America tournaments. 2014 was a breakout year for a few players on the squad, not least of which is Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. Record goalscorer Radamel Falcao was left out of the squad for this tournament, owing largely to his wretched form at Manchester United and Chelsea in the past two seasons. There’s still plenty of talent on this team, and they’re surely favorites to reach the final of this tournament. The USA will have to work very hard and be rock solid at the back if they hope to get a result against this team.
• Sounders players: None, though long-time fans (since 2009) may still have a soft spot for Fredy Montero’s homeland.
• Captain: Arguably one of the best players in the world, midfielder Rodriguez is the lifeblood of his country’s team. His Golden Boot-winning performance in the 2014 World Cup earned him a very, very high-profile transfer from Monaco to Real Madrid. His season for Madrid wasn’t perfect, and he was nearly invisible in the 2015 Copa America. But he often thrives when playing for Colombia, and he’s never one to ignore. Expect him to lead his team by example in this match, using his technical ability and playmaking to be the focal point of all of Colombia’s attack.
• One to watch: If he weren’t captain, I’d go straight for Rodriguez in this category. But aside from him, Chelsea winger Juan Cuadrado is one of Colombia’s more potent attacking threats. His speed and ability on the ball makes him very dangerous from the flanks, and he’s no slouch in defense, either. When Colombia springs a counter-attack, don’t be surprised if Cuadrado is the man leading the charge.
• Biggest weakness: Despite having some creative and dangerous midfielders, Colombia’s list of forwards in this tournament isn’t too likely to strike fear into opponents on their own. Milan’s Carlos Bacca is their best striker, with 11 goals in 28 international appearances. But the other three on the list have a combined four goals from 32 appearances. There is some talent there, but a lack of experience means that midfielders like Rodriguez and Cuadrado may be relied upon to pick up the scoring slack if the forwards aren’t able to.
Prediction: I’m optimistic that we’ll get a very boring game to start this tournament; for the USA, boring is good in this match. A 0-0 draw doesn’t hurt them, especially if they can win the other two group matches. Colombia will hit hard, but I think the USA’s midfield is up for the challenge of stifling their opponent’s best players before they can make things happen.
Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.