The United States men's national team finished 4th at Copa America Centenario, losing a close 1-0 decision Saturday night vs. Colombia in the Third Place Match in Glendale, Arizona. Despite the loss, the U.S. turned in a much stronger performance than four days prior vs. Argentina. Here's what we learned:
The team cared much more about the result than we did
Okay, I'll speak for myself here. Maybe *you* were excited about the prospect of a third place medal. I guess it would've been a cool souvenir for the guys to bring home from summer camp. It's nice to have something to literally show for your efforts. But for the rest of us, it's hard to get up for a Third Place Match after your team has just been eliminated.
Of course, Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad are professionals, and they cared about this result very much. Both teams, in fact, fielded first choice lineups. There was a greater intensity than we typically see in this sort of match. It was undoubtedly a far more spirited and entertaining game than any of Saturday's three Euro 2016 matches. Both teams pressured and attacked, and generally tried to score, which is more than you could say about the games across the pond.
Still, many observers had preferred to see some youth worked into the squad for this one. A competitive match against a Top 5 team would've been a great learning experience for Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, Perry Kitchen, or even Ethan Horvath to be trusted with a start here. This feels like an opportunity missed ahead of World Cup Qualifying resuming this fall, and that's disappointing.
The Klinsmann-Orozco Bromance lives on
Everyone needs a buddy they can rely on in a pinch. When you need help moving a couch, when you need a ride to the airport, it's good to have someone you know will answer the phone. That's who Michael Orozco is to Jurgen Klinsmann.
Some coaches just have favorites. Michael Orozco is a versatile player. He can, when needed, slot anywhere across the back line. He's never the first choice at any of those positions, yet always seems to be in the mix because he's both willing and able, and on occasion does a capable job.
With two starters down due to injury (Brooks & Johnson), Klinsmann had holes to fill. Unsurprisingly, Matt Besler earned another start. And despite the presence of actual left back Edgar Castillo, it was Orozco who got the nod on the left. Why? Because why not.
Orozco was most assuredly the worst player on the field for the U.S. Saturday night. He had all sorts of trouble with Juan Cuadrado, consistently left acres of space, and topped it off with a retaliatory straight red card in stoppage time. You might think we've seen the last of Michael Orozco for a while, if not forever. But you'd be wrong. Klinsy's got him on speed dial, he'll call again, and Orozco will show up. And we'll have this discussion all over again.
Maybe Lionel Messi just scared the living crap out of us
Could it be this simple? The United States wasn't great on Saturday night vs. Colombia, but the performance was eons better than it was vs. Argentina. Granted, just about anything would've been better than what we saw in the Semifinals. Last Tuesday we saw a team that looked flat out intimidated from the opening whistle. I suppose facing the world's best player could do that do a team. Maybe the stage was too big.
It was a different story vs. Colombia. We saw consistent ball pressure. There were periods of sustained possession, coherent passing, quality chances created, even a few shots on target. The return to the XI of Jones, Wood, and Bedoya certainly was a big part of this, restoring a front six that played so well together earlier in the tournament. But the U.S. looked like a team that believed it could win. Colombia isn't as good Argentina, but they're still a damned good team.
This game was, in fact, winnable. If Clint Dempsey's spectacular free kick attempt wasn't saved, or if Bobby Wood's effort doesn't hit the post, maybe we're talking about a different result. Maybe it goes to penalties and we have a few minutes to celebrate. Ah, what could've been.
Fourth place at Copa America is a very respectable showing that was above expectation. When Klinsmann declared a few weeks ago that reaching the Semifinals was the goal, it was widely viewed as unrealistic. But the U.S. managed to win its group and beat a very good Ecuador team in a knockout game. The world's elite teams are still a good measure beyond us. We knew that, but it's been reinforced.
The USMNT needed a string of good results after a really rough twelve months. There are changes to be made, new players to integrate. But this team's confidence has been restored heading into some important World Cup Qualifiers this fall. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, but it'll have to do.