In case you've been living under a rock the past few months, the United States open this summer's Copa America Centenario against Colombia on Friday night. Arguably the strongest group top-to-bottom, Group A features the two countries previously mentioned along with recent CONCACAF power Costa Rica and 2015 Copa America semi-finalist Paraguay. Readers certainly know a lot about the U.S., but how will the other three teams line up and who are their key players?
Despite having a less recognizable squad than we're used to seeing, here are your obvious Group A favorites. Possessing enough attacking talent to strike fear into any defense, Colombia should have no problem creating ample goal scoring opportunities. Look for Real Madrid star James Rodriguez to run the show drifting into space behind Carlos Bacca, one of the most clinical strikers in the world. Other players to look out for include Juventus do-it-all-right-sided-engine Juan Cuadrado and 19-year-old Marlos Moreno, who has been dubbed the biggest talent in South America.
Colombia will use their pace and superior athletic ability to try and hit teams on the counter-attack as much as they can. And when they are able to play a more controlled build-up they have several deadly playmakers. They are effective in almost every style of play and that's what make Colombia such a dangerous team to play against.
James Rodriguez - CAM - Real Madrid
Juan Cuadrado - RW - Juventus
Carlos Bacca - ST - AC Milan
A fortunate World Cup quarterfinals appearance has shifted the perception of Costa Rica to something their talent pool may not be able to replicate, especially with the absence of star goalkeeper Kaylor Navas. Still, they are a disciplined group of players who will be tough to get three points from, as shown by their dominance in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying thus far. Joel Campbell is the danger man and will need a big tournament for Costa Rica to have a chance of getting out of the group. Expect the Ticos to imitate their World Cup set up by playing a conservative five at the back system.
Costa Rica will be tough to break down and will look to strike on the attacking end when the opportunity presents itself. They never overextend themselves and are always composed and controlled at the back.
Joel Campbell - RW - Arsenal
Bryan Ruiz - CAM/LW - Sporting CP
Oscar Duarte - CB - RCD Espanyol
With only five European based players, Paraguay will likely have the least recognizable squad in the group to most viewers. However, this isn't an indication of their lack of quality. With a very respectable 9 points from six matches in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, Paraguay and pose a real threat. If that doesn't do it for you, go check who knocked Brazil out of last summer's Copa America in the quarterfinals. (Spoiler: it was these guys.) Derlis Gonzalez, Antonio Sanabria, and former Argentinian youth international Juan Iturbe are exciting young players who have the ability to make magic out of nothing. This should be a fun team to watch, if nothing else.
Derlis Gonzalez - LW - Dynamo Kyiv
Juan Iturbe - RW/ST - Bournemouth
Justo Villar - GK - Colo-Colo
1. Colombia: 7 points
2. United States: 4 points
3. Paraguay: 3 points
4. Costa Rica: 1 point
In this scenario, the key is the U.S. get three points from Costa Rica while Paraguay struggle to a draw. Perhaps I'm too harsh on Costa Rica's inevitable regression but I don't see them winning any of their three matches. Colombia, as mentioned, are big favorites and will likely avoid a scare.