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USA vs. Colombia, 2018 friendly: Scouting Colombia

A solid Colombian side, led by James Rodriguez, looks to extend its run of good form

Colombia v England: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team looks to build on its 1-0 victory against Mexico, as it takes on Colombia in an international friendly Thursday night in Tampa. Colombia enters the match ranked #14 in the world and is in good form with a 3-1-1 record in its last five matches. The loss came in a penalty shootout against England in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Round of 16. While this Colombia team is talented, it is missing some regulars including defenders Yerry Mina, Cristian Zapata, as well as midfielder Carlos Sanchez.

Colombia Roster:

Goalkeepers (2): Álvaro Montero (Tolima/COL), David Ospina (Napoli/ITA)

Defenders (8): Felipe Aguilar (Atlético Nacional/COL), Santiago Arias (Atlético Madrid/ESP), Cristian Borja (Toluca/MEX), Deiver Machado (Atlético Nacional/COL) Jeison Murillo (Valencia/ESP), Óscar Murillo (Pachuca/MEX), Helibelton Palacios (Atlético Nacional/COL), Davinson Sánchez (Tottenham Hotspur/ENG),

Midfielders (9): Wílmar Barrios (Boca Juniors/ARG), Edwin Cardona (Boca Juniors/ARG), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus/ITA), Didier Moreno (Deportivo La Coruña/ESP), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate/ARG), Juan Daniel Roa (Independiente Santa Fe/COL), James Rodríguez (Bayern Munich/GER), Mateus Uribe (Club América/MEX), Sebastián Villa (Boca Juniors/ARG),

Forwards (5): Carlos Bacca (Villarreal/ESP), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras/BRA), Yimmi Chará (Atlético Mineiro/BRA), Radamel Falcao (Monaco/FRA), Cucho Hernández (Huesca/ESP)

While this roster has several excellent players, it lacks depth. Five players ply their trade in the weak Colombian league. Interim head coach Arturo Reyes will likely deploy a 4-5-1, that will function as a 4-3-3 when the team is attacking.

Colombia is a very physical side who will foul a lot. They committed a total of 36 fouls in its September friendlies against Venezuela and Argentina. Here’s a projected lineup based on the assumption that Reyes will deploy the strongest team possible:

Projected Lineup:

Expect Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina to start. Ospina has been in bad form in Serie A, conceding nine goals in just four appearances and splitting time in goal with Orestis Karnezis. Despite Ospina’s recent struggles, he is still Colombia’s clear #1.

Davinson Sanchez should get the nod at centerback. The Tottenham man is a world-class defender who is an excellent tackler and good with the ball at his feet. His one weakness is that he is occasionally gets caught out of position, but at just the tender age of 22, he has plenty of time to improve. Jeison Murillo will likely partner Sanchez at centerback. While he has received little playing time for Valencia this season, Murillo is one of Colombia’s best defensive options. He is a solid 1-v-1 defender, but struggles with positioning even more so than Sanchez.

There are several options at left back, including Deiver Machado, Cristian Borja, and Oscar Murillo. I’m guessing that Borja will get the start. He is extremely fast and excels at man-marking, however too frequently he overcommits to challenges. Look for Santiago Arias to feature at right back. Arias likes to get involved in the attack and can deliver pinpoint crosses. However, his tackling leaves much to be desired.

Wilmar Barrios should get the nod at defensive midfielder. The Boca Juniors starter is a strong, prototypical #6, but is a rather poor dribbler.

Juan Fernando Quintero will likely feature as one of the central midfielders. He was once touted as one of the top young prospects in South America, but the 25-year-old has failed to make a name for himself in Europe. In many ways, he is a poor man’s James Rodriguez.

Juan Cuadrado should start on the right wing. Cuadrado possesses blistering pace and is a solid dribbler, but his finishing is surprisingly poor. His defensive abilities have gradually improved over the past few years and he’s even featured at right back in two of Juventus’s Serie A games this season. Look for Edwin Cardona to get the nod on the left wing. He is a tricky dribbler, excellent set piece taker, and loves to shoot from distance. Despite Cardona’s talents, his passing is rather average and he receives far too many cards.

Expect James Rodriguez to start in central midfield and play just behind Radamel Falcao. While James seems to have lost a step since his Real Madrid days, he still will be the most talented player on the pitch. His passing ability is world-class and while he perhaps doesn’t score as much as he should, he is dangerous from long range. The only substantial criticism of Rodriguez is that he puts in little defensive effort.

Radamel Falcao should feature as the lone striker, but Carlos Bacca may get the nod instead. While Falcao is particularly slow and struggles with hold-up play, he is an excellent finisher with a high soccer IQ.

With the United States missing Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, and Weston McKennie, Colombia should be favored. I’m predicting a 2-1 Colombian victory.