Statistics are funny things. Other than goals, there's nothing to suggest the performance put in by the USA against Costa Rica was quantifiably better than the one they showed against Colombia.
#USMNT non-penalty expected goals:— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 8, 2016
- vs Colombia: 0.72
- vs Costa Rica: 0.73
That's almost exactly the same performance, actually. The only thing is: we don't traffic in xG when the game starts. Goals are all that count. The U.S. got their goal early against Costa Rica and put them on their heels by absorbing pressure and counter-attacking all night. Missing a suspended Kendall Waston certainly didn't help, either, and by halftime, down 3-0, it seemed a certain admission of defeat to sub out Joel Campbell.
Colombia got another early goal against Paraguay, upped their lead to 2-0, and then followed nearly the same blueprint as their win against the States, ceding the possession advantage but almost never looking troubled, and would have never been troubled were it not for a ridiculous, out-of-nowhere blast from Victor Ayala.
Statistics are good to track performances, and by the numbers on paper, the U.S. should have the considerable advantage against Paraguay. But this is a tournament, and the Paraguayans know a win will see almost certainly see them into the next round of play. This isn't nine times out of ten. One game to play; one game to win. Anything can happen.
W (4-0) - Costa Rica - Copa America
L (0-2) - Colombia - Copa America
W (4-0) - Bolivia - Friendly
W (1-0) - Ecuador - Friendly
W (3-1) - Puerto Rico - Friendly
L (1-2) - Colombia - Copa America
D (0-0) - Costa Rica - Copa America
L (0-1) - Mexico - Friendly
D (2-2) - Brazil - WCQ
D (2-2) - Ecuador - WCQ
What to Watch For:
Playing to Your Strengths - For the roster the United States has, I think a 4-3-3 would suit our strongest lineup of players best. However, I don't think Jurgen Klinsmann is playing our best players, and is shoehorning quite a few into positions they just will not succeed in at this level. Simply put: the 4-3-3 with Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes on the wings isn't working. Frustration with Zardes is not new. We know who he is as a player and what his shortcomings are. Bobby Wood was a shining example of progress, until he got put into a position that he clearly doesn't play very well. Wood only attempted 18 passes in the game, completed only 9 of them, and worst of all, was clearly dragged away from where he is at his best: the opponent's box. The switch to a 4-4-2 made a world of difference for both Wood and Dempsey, and if both of them are in the starting lineup, I think Jurgen has to go with a 4-4-2. They just don't make much sense where they currently start in the 4-3-3, and would be better served playing off each other.
Plugging the Hole - If you look at Costa Rica's passing chart, you'll notice that despite their somewhat incredible 531 total passes, there is a forest of red lines beginning about ten yards outside the United States box, in the center of the field, and arching our around the box.
That area just above the box is what you might hear called "Zone 14" at times, and controlling it is usually a prerequisite to successful defending. Despite their possession, the Costa Ricans just couldn't get into that space, and that has a lot to do with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones bouncing back after a rough outing against the Colombians, who both completed several passes into Zone 14 and from Zone 14. In both the low-block 4-3-3 and then later 4-4-2, Bradley sat back and Jermaine Jones was allowed to roam more evenly, instead of being shackled to a certain player. Simply put: it worked. The two will need to do the same against Paraguay.
M.I.A. - This is just the section where I let you know that if Gyasi Zardes starts another game that Darlington Nagbe doesn't even get to play in, my tears will tattoo my face in grief.
To be very direct with you: this lineup prediction is cheating.
Is this a 4-4-2? Or a 4-3-3? If we're letting our players' strengths determine where they play, it will be somewhat in the middle. The most drastic change is Wood moving central and playing off Dempsey, like the move Klinsmann made at the end of the first half (which resulted in Wood's goal, and, it must be said, was a very good tactical move on Jurgen's part). The central midfield will still seem something like a trio, however, as I think if the U.S. does roll out a 4-4-2, Bedoya will be tasked with pinching inside and helping out Jones and Bradley a bit, with DeAndre Yedlin tasked to give the attack some width. I also think he starts Gyasi Zardes. Why? Because the world is a cruel and unjust place.