The United States opened its 2024 Copa America account with a 2-0 win over Bolivia on Sunday evening. The goal for the USMNT was always three points against an inferior opponent. As the adage goes, the goal for the team is getting out of the group. Picking up three points against Bolivia ahead of another winnable game against Panama was the first cog in that process. Yet, there was a sour taste in the mouth of USA fans after the win at AT&T Stadium.

Christian Pulisic’s stunner and Folarin Balogun’s insurance goal showed what the USMNT is capable of. Still, for every moment of positivity out of Gregg Berhalter’s side, there were equal moments of frustration. The inability to finish on clear chances in front of goal, sloppy play out of the defensive third when building possession and nervous moments against a poor Bolivia side showed the cracks in the USMNT.

Gregg Berhalter said one of his pre-tournament expectations for the United States was to constantly improve. Based on the schedule at hand, there is ample opportunity to do that without damaging risk. For example, the United States was allowed to play relatively poorly based on the quality of the opposition.

“For us, it’s just about analyzing and improving,” Berhalter said after the win against Bolivia. “I talked about one of our objectives throughout this tournament was to keep trying to get better. I like the performance for an opening game against a difficult opponent. We’re in a good position.”

Yes, the United States is in a good position. Three points against Panama would more than likely put the United States into the round of 16. Still, the woes of the United States, against an admittedly not-difficult opponent, should raise concerns.

More clinical finishing needed for USA in Copa America

Outside of three points, the main takeaway for the United States was the quantity and quality of chances it created. The USMNT had far more possession and 20 shots to go along with that. Eight of those shots were on target, which shows the USMNT was having success in creation.

“We’ll always look at chance creation as a marker of performance, and I think we created enough chances today,” Berhalter said. “And on most days, those chances are going to go in — and today they didn’t, and that’s fine.”

It would be fine if it were just an off-day for a great striker. The United States is working to find out which striker works. Balogun got the start, and his goal came on the back of a great finish just before halftime. Even he missed opportunities including a loose touch on a misfired shot from Joe Scally. Ricardo Pepi came on as a second-half substitute, and he was wasteful in front of the Bolivia net.

By the end of the contest, the USMNT amassed an expected-goals statistic of 2.51, meaning chances were left unfinished. This is more worrying given the unrepeatable nature of Pulisic scoring a world-class goal off a corner. Pepi and Balogun were getting into the right areas, which is great. However, finishing needs improvement against a more defensively savvy side like Uruguay. It is worth noting that Bolivia has conceded 14 goals in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying. That is more than the current top four teams combined.

Defensive inefficiencies can be cleaned up

Two goals were enough against Bolivia because the United States’ opponent failed to score. A more potent side would have capitalized on mistakes among the back line. The full-backs for the United States were fine, Joe Scally and Antonee Robinson maintained their defensive responsibilities while parading forward in the attack.

Chris Richards and Tim Ream did not have the same comfort playing out of the back. Several wayward passes sparked half chances for Bolivia. The USMNT was able to recover against weak attackers. Yet, putting the defense on the back foot against an attack like Federico Valverde, Darwin Nunez and a young Facundo Pellistri will have consequences.

There is certainly an argument that these center-backs would need to find their footing in the Copa America. Even though they have experience in top games in World Cup qualifying or other tournaments, Bolivia was an unfamiliar opponent. As the tournament goes on, they hope to get more comfortable, and the United States can have more composure playing out of the back.

As stated, the Panama game on Thursday, July 27, could be enough to put the USMNT into the round of 16, taking pressure off the group-stage finale against Uruguay. Until then, Berhalter has the task of continuing his proposed improvement in each game.


Copa América 2024

Here are some resources to get you ready for Copa!
Copa América Schedule: Full schedule of all games for the 2024 tournament
How to watch: Information on where to find the games on TV and streaming
How to Stream Learn how you can stream Copa games live in 2024
Key Dates: Learn All the important dates to mark on your calendar
Copa (United States of) América: South America's biggest tournament comes back to the USA
2024 Soccer Calendar: Get the lowdown on what will be a busy year in soccer