On Friday night the United States men's national team opened Copa America Group A play with a disappointing, yet perhaps unsurprising, 2-0 loss vs. group favorites Colombia. Two very winnable games remain, but the margin for error has disappeared. Here's what we learned:
The U.S. shouldn't be overly impressed with winning the possession battle
It looks good on the stat sheet that the United States held 53% of the possession vs. Colombia. But the meaningfulness of that number is questionable. Colombia likes to play this way, and has used Friday night's formula to great success in 2018 World Cup Qualifying thus far. In each of its three WCQ wins, Los Cafeteros found an early goal and were content to then play without the ball and counterattack. Colombia earned less than 40% of the possession in March WCQ wins against both Bolivia and Ecuador. In each case, a goal in the first 15 minutes set the tone. Friday night's game followed a very similar script.
This is not to say holding possession should be wholly dismissed. It is encouraging to see the U.S. hold the ball against a quality opponent, because that's ultimately how Klinsmann wants his team to play (so he says). But after going ahead in the 8th minute, Colombia was content to sit back, clog up the middle, and challenge the Americans to create quality chances. Without any true creators on the field and no space to operate, that just wasn't going to happen.
Michael Bradley must be much better
If Michael Bradley has a poor tournament, the United States will not advance from Group A. It really is that simple. Bradley's 78% passing efficiency wasn't remotely good enough, and was a major reason why the U.S. midfield was so ineffective. There were too many unforced errors, possessions given away, and multiple passes to nowhere... or in some cases, directly to the foot of an opponent.
As good as Bradley looked in the last couple of pre-Copa friendlies, he was just as poor vs. Colombia. The U.S. needs better from its captain. Changes may be made to the Starting XI for Tuesday's critical clash vs. Costa Rica, but Bradley will remain a constant. If we see another such performance in Chicago, this tournament will be over for the U.S. in a flash.
Fortune favors the bold, as they say
Jürgen Klinsmann's starting lineup was less cynical than many feared, but still wasn't bold enough. Yes, Klinsmann could have gone super-cynical and opted to start Kyle Beckerman at the expense of an attacking player like Bobby Wood. We can be relieved he didn't go that far. Unfortunately, he also didn't go far enough.
Knowing Colombia's counterattacking tendencies, the U.S. needed players with answers in the final third. Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic had minimal opportunity to impact the game over the last 25 minutes. By that time, Colombia was well settled into its defensive shell and content to run out the clock. What could the Nagbe/Pulisic duo have done playing on the front foot from the opening kickoff? It sure couldn't have been less productive than what we saw.
Klinsmann didn't expect to beat Colombia. By playing it safe with his lineup choices, he got the result he both expected *and* deserved.