Starting off with the most difficult game in a Group Stage is never an easy task especially when the margin for error in these tournaments is so small. When the US Men’s National Team dueled with Colombia, they knew that the toughest task of the group stage was in front of them, leaving them with little wiggle room in case the inevitable happened.
Using the same 4-3-3 formation that worked so well against Ecuador and Bolivia was a logical step, though the jump in quality was noticeable. For as divisive as Jurgen Klinsmann is, the move to stick with this system was largely accepted and praised for being more proactive and less negative against quality opposition. Unfortunately, against a team such as Colombia, individual errors can cost you against a team that is clinical, even if the errors were unforced and sometimes unjust.
Giving up a goal on a set-piece as the US did so early in the match set a negative tone. Though they were able to control possession, they were able to largely because it was ceded to them, and Colombia were patient in waiting for their opportunities on the break. While this 4-3-3 formation has plenty of pluses, it didn’t have all that much width without sacrificing in defense as Colombia showed ease going over the top, and if it weren’t for pretty good games by both John Brooks and Geoff Cameron, Colombia’s two would have certainly been greater. DeAndre Yedlin’s handball, though the entire move started with a sloppy Michael Bradley giveaway, is one that in another match might not have been called. It’s 50-50 at best, and while it’s never a good idea to give a referee a chance to make a decision, the decision certainly felt somewhat harsh.
By 2-0, Colombia allowed all the play to take place in front of them knowing full well that the US didn’t have the players to punish them. Perhaps introducing Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic earlier might have sparked the team somewhat, but Jose Pekerman’s tactical set-up flummoxed the US even when the game was close, and it was even easier to control when Klinsmann’s men were chasing the game, and eventually chasing shadows.
Jurgen Klinsmann was in a no-win situation tactically heading into the match. Changing up a successful formula from recent games would have been railed against, but this formation had its known problems that would be easily exploited by better opposition. He started what was likely his best midfield, and even though the unit may have played better if Darlington Nagbe played instead of Jermaine Jones, and Bobby Wood moved centrally instead of being isolated out wide, those changes may have done enough only to make the scoreline slightly more respectable. For as much as Nagbe and Pulisic have been praised of late, they are not the game-changers needed to turn a 2-0 deficit on its head. Behind the midfield, the back four and Brad Guzan had solid enough performances that with a different result they would have been heaped with praise.
Colombia was always going to be the toughest test of the group stage and even in an ideal setting, a draw was probably going to be the best possible outcome. Now, they must do what they were always charged with doing: beat Costa Rica and Paraguay, and the likelihood of pulling off that double has not changed after the events in Santa Clara. Those teams do not have the tactical organization or the gamebreakers that Colombia possesses, and the US will not be in as much of a hostile environment as they had to face against los Cafeteros.
What that match showed was how far the US has to go to challenge the world’s powers consistently, not just from the dugout but on the pitch too. That was never in doubt. What might be in doubt is the future of their tournament should they not put in the requisite effort against Costa Rica in Chicago.
The true colors of Jurgen Klinsmann and his national team will come then. It was never coming Friday night, even in success.
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