The United States face a stiff test in the Copa America Centenario, with matches against Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay in the group stage, followed by the threat of teams like Brazil, Chile, and Argentina in the knockout rounds. The USMNT, as the hosting team, has a chance to make a deep run. Here are three things that the team should keep in mind in order to succeed.
Keep that defense organized
From the start, the USMNT will be facing some of the best attackers in the world. In the very first match, Real Madrid's James Rodríguez will be looking to split the American defense. USMNT fans will be familiar with the threat of Arsenal's Joel Campbell and Sporting Lisbon's Bryan Ruiz. And even Paraguay has the likes of Bournemouth's Juan Iturbe. Should the USMNT progress, they face the threat of running into players like Brazil's Hulk and Coutinho, or Ecuador's Enner Valencia, and Jefferson Montero, all of them established players in Europe. If the U.S. played like they did at the last Gold Cup, where they were outshot by teams like Jamaica and Haiti, they will be in trouble.
The good news is that the USMNT have the personal to handle such attacks. Barring any sudden changes from what we've seen so far (and I wouldn't put that past Klinsmann), the team appears to be lining up with DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, and Fabian Johnson. All four were solid starters in either the English Premier League or the German Bundesliga (albeit, Fabian Johnson as a midfielder). However, that center back pairing of Cameron and Brooks has only had a couple of appearances.
The whole back four has only ever appeared as a complete group in the most recent match against Bolivia. In order to succeed against such potent attackers, the defense will need to be vigilant and vocal. The center backs will need to watch what the other is doing in order to work in concert. And the fullbacks will need to make sure to coordinate their forays into attack. Michael Bradley as the deepest lying midfielder should help. But that entire back line will need to watch where they go to prevent the goal from being torn apart.
Make chances count
South America is renowned for producing breathtaking attacking football and raising crafty and speedy dribblers. However, many of the teams have developed stingy and physical defenses. In my book, the best player in the 2014 World Cup was Argentine defensive midfielder, Javier Mascherano. And Argentina is no exception in South America. When you have to regularly play against the likes of Argentina and Brazil, you learn to handle a little bit of pressure. That goes for Central America, too. Costa Rica played rope-a-dope in the World Cup to a quarterfinal finish, besting the likes of Uruguay and Italy. Making real chances can be really tough against teams that are determined to fight for every inch.
Unfortunately, there's some concern here for the USMNT. Jozy Altidore, the USMNT's most prolific true center forward, is absent through injury. Though he has his detractors, when he's on form, he can be relied upon for goals. Jozy will be sorely missed, as he was during most of the last World Cup. In his place, Clint Dempsey has stepped up. However, Deuce hasn't looked especially sharp in some time. He didn't exactly generate a lot of shots against either Ecuador or Bolivia, managing only one shot on target. Against decent opposition, the American attack at times can end up reduced to the Clint Dempsey show. In the Gold Cup, Deuce scored over half the team's goals. If you take away the 6-0 stomping of Cuba, that becomes 4 of 6. While new attacking talent has stepped up in the form of Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic, and Darlington Nagbe, there is still a sense that the team can be a bit too profligate in front of goal.
Play with some swagger
The USMNT is the home team and they need to play like it. Against Colombia, the United States has the opportunity to set the tone, not just for the match, but for the entire tournament. When the U.S. has decided to step up the play and actually impose themselves on their opponents, the team has not only done well, but has looked good doing so. After falling behind against Portugal, the US took a handle on the game and mostly outplayed the likes of Ronaldo.
In extra time against Belgium, the U.S. put the Europeans to the sword, albeit too little too late. After falling behind against both the Netherlands and Germany in friendlies, the US stormed back to win the game in stunning fashion. All too often, this team plays scared. We hole up, park the bus, and desperately hope that things break our way. But when the stakes are raised, this team comes out and performs. Well, this is a prestigious tournament. This is at home. The stakes are raised. The team needs to prove that they can do this. Not only to the foreign talent that sneers at us. But to us watching at home here in the states. This match gives the USMNT to tell other countries, this is how we run, can you keep up with us? This team can do it. They just need to play like they know that.