2016 Copa America: US vs. Colombia
In the opening match of the 2016 Copa America, sponsored by Sprint, the US lost to Colombia 2-0. Despite the result, the US played well. It’s not condescending to say they didn’t play as well as Colombia. They didn’t. But they played well. Both sides had good, strong tackles. It was a lively game. The problem was that, as a team, Colombia started to reveal their superior touch, vision, professionalism and experience which came about in high-paced possession, accurate flicks, little chips, good through balls, along with very good, well-trained and very aggressive defense. They were ranked number three in the world, and they played like it. Ranked 31st, the US played well, but they were lacking in the most important part of the game: highly skilled defensive possession. With a subtle change in that regard, the US could have rightfully been ranked in the top fifteen and likely would have gotten a better result in a game like this.
The first half was the better showing for the US. Colombia was good as well, benefiting from two goals, one of which was a controversial handball call, leading to an interesting debate. Was it a handball? The US player in question, Yedlin, turned his back to a cross, leaving his arm slightly outstretched, which made contact with the ball. The letter of the law states that because he made himself bigger, by leaving his arm outstretched, it was called a penalty kick. James put it away, and that was the end score. Predictably, the US had a challenge on its hands for the next two games. The issue was the same for the US. The defenders were lacking offensive character. They are usually good defenders, there’s no disputing that, but they’re not the best in possession.
The problem is, surprise, surprise, the defenders have the majority of possession, in every game. The way they distribute the ball to the other so-called “creative players” affects how the flow of the game goes. In effect, with the majority of possession, the defenders are the “creative players.” It never changes. It’s a little like David Brent questioning his employee Keith, who asks, “What are the options?” “They’re always the same.” Everything on offense starts with the defense.
Media commentators suggested many ideas for the lineup, including the benching of Bradley. But rather than be benched, Bradley would be better used as a fullback. Despite some players not being on the team, the best four defenders would have been Yedlin, Bradley, Ream (or Cameron) and Brek Shea (or an idea outside the box would be to use a forward like a healthy Edson Buddle). With that backline, there would have been no more wondering why the USMNT can’t win the big tournaments. It starts with the defenders. With all the talk of lineup changes, a center midfielder is needed to lead the defense. The US should have taken a chance – months ago – with Bradley as a center fullback, preferably with Ream (or Bradley with Cameron or Besler or Brooks).
The upside was that, in general, the US team had a good presence and with a better skilled backline they could defeat top teams. There was still hope, and Klinsmann was correct in his assessment after the game, noting that it was a good game, and it would serve well for the future of the team, whether moving on in this tournament or taking that confidence into the next World Cup.
Shane Stay is a writer, former professional soccer player, comedian, producer and founder of Leaf Dressing. In 2008, Stay bottled Leaf Dressing, co-authored a print book, published a magazine story, worked clubs as a comedian, played restaurateur, received a Master of Arts and played professional soccer. In 1999, Stay founded the first online Current Events game, CE Game. Stay has a Bachelor of Arts from Sonoma State University and a Master of Arts from Southern Illinois University. He was born in Carbondale, Illinois, to parents Jim and Carol Hanson, an author and school teacher.
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