The 2016 Copa America Centenario offers the US Men’s National Team a unique opportunity to test itself before the Hex begins later this fall. Since they did not qualify for the Confederations Cup in Russia, this is likely their best chance to be World Cup ready by testing themselves against the best teams in the Americas. The draw didn’t have that much variability in it, though there was a best and worst case scenario for advancing out of their group.
Whatever the worst case scenario is/was, the US either hit it or hit very close to it. They’ll open with the dangerous Colombia in Santa Clara, then CONCACAF’s third best team in Costa Rica in Chicago four days later, and their group stage ends in Philadelphia against the always tricky Paraguay. Colombia might not have been the scariest team in Pot 2 based on recent form, but their ceiling is seemingly the highest, and at their best they can beat basically anyone in the world. The US is well aware of Costa Rica’s best, and even Paraguay has the chance to be an incredibly prickly fixture. The best team out of the final two pots did end up in Group A with the US, and although many are predicting doom, this is exactly what the US should want in a tournament such as this.
SEE MORE: Schedule for 2016 Copa America Centenario.
Jurgen Klinsmann has made a major point of wanting to test his side against the best in the world as many times as he can, and he doesn’t get many chances to do so in a competitive environment. With no Confederations Cup trip coming for the second consecutive cycle, Klinsmann has this tournament (and more than likely the Hex) in terms of competitive fixtures left before Russia, should the US qualify. Playing teams just around them in terms of level is an opportunity they should relish, even though it would be easy to advance against a group of Ecuador, Haiti and Bolivia. In that scenario, while qualification would have been far easier, the expectations are far higher and the penalty for failure is much greater. The lack of expectations here, just like in Brazil two years ago, gives Jurgen Klinsmann some leverage in terms of setting the message for the media and his team. And all of the doom and gloom from immediately after the draw forgets something important…
The US’ current form, both overall and individually, is not set in stone come June. Players will go in and out of form, and there are certainly bright spots. Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron could well end up as the centerback pairing of record, the US will have their complement of Bradley/Dempsey/Altidore back in theory come March against Guatemala, and there is plenty of promise with players like Darlington Nagbe and the like. While most of the best young players will play the Olympic qualifying ties against Colombia, the US should be strong enough to at least take four out of six points then and enter the Copa in better form. Individual form can and will probably change in the next four months.
SEE MORE: Copa America tickets now on sale.
On their day, the US can beat everybody in their group, including Colombia. Jose Pekerman, despite the talent at his disposal, is famously negative and hesitant in his tactics at times, and the US should be able to play with the ball and dictate the tempo of the game against all three opponents. Klinsmann has, to his detriment, set his own teams out with negative tactics in the past year, so this will give everyone a chance to see how his team does when they have the impetus to break down their opponents.
This group is a challenge for the US, make no mistake. But with most of the fixture list between then and Russia either fait accompli WCQ’s in the Hex or friendlies against teams that would likely beat the US in a competitive situation (see the Dutch or Germans), this is a chance the US must seize and prove to everyone around the world they can be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to it in Russia.
These chances don’t come around very often. With the Confederations Cup off the table, this is the last dress rehearsal Jurgen Klinsmann and his team will get. And they should relish the tests ahead.
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