We're just a week away from the United States U-23 national team embarking on their two biggest matches of the last four years and yet we know very little about the match-up with Colombia. Here's what we do know: They'll be playing the first match of their two-legged Olympic playoff in Barranquilla, Colombia next Friday. Followed by the return home leg in Frisco, Texas just three days later.
We've already seen the Colombia roster released to the public. Andi Herzog will be releasing his any moment now. But, even the names of the Americans who will be called up remain uncertain due to the requirement of clubs having to agree to release them for these matches.
The truth is, we don't know much about this Colombia team. Most of their players play domestically, while a few are bandied about Europe in various countries. On paper it's not a daunting list by any means. It's likely that Herzog and the rest of the U-23 staff will have access to videos and advanced scouting reports to help them prepare, but we just don't have those resources. All we have is the internet.
Here's what we know about the Colombia U-23 team:
- They clinched a spot in this Olympic playoff by finishing second in their group in the 2015 South American Youth Football Championship, a tournament for under-20 teams.
- 17 of their 25 players have at least one cap for the U-23 national team
- 3 of their players (DF Helibelton Palacios, MF Juan Fernando Quintero, and FW Andres Renteria) have received senior national team caps.
- 4 of their players played on the U-20 team that lost to the USA in the 2015 U-20 World Cup Round of 16.
- FW Roger Martinez has scored three goals and is the top scorer for the team
- MF Juan Fernando Quintero is the only player on the roster who represented Colombia at the 2014 World Cup.
- He scored this really nice goal against Ivory Coast.
- They haven't qualified for the Olympics since 1992.
It's not much to go by to give any 'expert analysis' on. That's probably why you haven't seen many thinkpieces on how the USA can go about beating this Colombia side. They are very much an unknown quantity.
We can say with 100 percent certainty that the Colombia U-23 national team do in fact play soccer and have 25 players that do so. Some of them are pretty good and some of them are really inexperienced. They don't appear to have much consistency in playing matches together, but the majority play in the same league so they should be familiar with one another.
Surely Andi Herzog will have much more information than we do about their playing style and personnel, but it's unlikely they'll be too informed on their opponent either. This will very much be an old fashioned "put your 11 vs. our 11 and see who's better" scenario, much like all youth matches are.
A youth coach's main objective is to mold his team and players the best he can. Taking the opponent's play style and talent into account is usually a very little part of the process. This will be a huge test in how Herzog has fared in doing that this Olympic cycle.
Two teams will be vying for one spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics starting next week. Logic tells us that it will likely be the most talented team that will prevail, however in two-legged playoffs it's often better to be lucky or fortunate than talented. For the sake of U.S. Soccer, let's hope it's the USA U-23's who earn that spot in some way or another.