DAVID SMITH - Friday, June 3, 2016
The United States kick off their Copa América Centenario campaign in Santa Clara California on Friday, taking on tournament dark horses Colombia.
All eyes will be on Jürgen Klinsmann's squad in a few hours, curious to see if the positive signs of their two warm-up matches will translate into what would amount to a significant upset over the group favorites.
The team followed up an ugly, but effective 1-0 victory over Ecuador with a commanding 5-0 spanking of Bolivia, and while the quality of the latter opponent could be brought into question, the attack was no doubt in high gear.
Perhaps the best sign is that the defensive quartet of Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron and DeAndre Yedlin appear to be clicking and in good health heading into the tournament, a luxury rarely afforded to the team as of late.
They will need every bit of their guile and dedication to hold back a high-quality set of attacking players representing La Tricolor, headed by Real Madrid attacking midfielder James Rodríguez and AC Milan forward Carlos Bacca.
Klinsmann will likely deploy a pair of defensive midfielders to help with containment, with Jermaine Jones the probable partner of team captain Michael Bradley.
On the other side of the ball, Aston Villa defensive midfielder Carlos Sánchez has recovered from an injury-hit 2016, and will likely pair Sebastián Pérez in a double-six configuration similar to Klinsmann's tactic.
These two, along with the team's back line, will be tasked with containing a US attack that will be brimming with confidence after their recent five-goal effort.
The trio of Bobby Wood, Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey should be the main front threats from the opening whistle, with new team additions Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe adding a spark from the bench.
This will leave Alejandro Bedoya as the possible link-up man in the middle, although it wouldn't be a major or unwelcome surprise should the dynamic Nagbe be selected for this role from the start.
These two teams met the last time in late-2014 in London, with Bacca and Rodríguez teaming up to cancel out an early Jozy Altidore goal, and Teofilo Gutierrez, who is not in the squad, hitting the winner in the final minutes.
The winner of this game - should there be one - will have a huge leg-up on advancing from the group heading into the final two against Paraguay and a weakened Costa Rica.