DAVID SMITH - Saturday, June 11, 2016
Everything is on the line on Saturday evening when Jürgen Klinsmann's squad faces Paraguay in Philadelphia, effectively needing only to avoid a loss in order to reach the quarterfinal.
The team recovered from their tournament-opening loss to Colombia as well as can be expected, smashing Costa Rica by a commanding 4-0 scoreline to put themselves in control of their own destiny.
Heading into Saturday's finale, a win over third-place Paraguay will see the Americans through to the quarterfinal, where they would most likely face expected Group B winners Brazil. Even a draw would be enough for advancement, provided that Costa Rica do not manage to beat Colombia by a large enough margin to overturn their current 6-goal advantage in terms of goal differential.
The gulf in quality between the Colombia loss and subsequent win over los Ticos was a remarkable difference considering the fact that Klinsmann trotted out the same collection of 11 players in each game.
The main differences were an attack that saw its various cogs finally moving in unison, and lack of decisive gaffes by the defense that marred their first game against Colombia.
In particular, Clint Dempsey put in an inspired performance the likes of which American fans were past the 33 year-old attacker, and Jermaine Jones finally clicked with Michael Bradley in the midfield, teaming up with the captain to limit Costa Rica while regularly participating in the forward surges.
The US has been lucky to avoid any injuries during the tournament, and with no players having picked up a second yellow card, Klinsmann will have the full squad available. Fabian Johnson, John Brooks and Alejandro Bedoya are all on one yellow, so they will have to be careful not to pick up a second that would make them miss a potential quarterfinal.
Paraguay have not been so lucky through their first two games, having lost midfielder Oscar Romero to suspension after he was sent off in Tuesday's loss to Colombia.
They are second-bottom in the group and can still advance to the quarterfinal with a win over the US, which should force them into a more attacking posture than they have shown as of late.
La Albirroja began their tournament with a scoreless draw against Costa Rica, and were subsequently beaten 2-1 by Colombia in their second outing. They have been far from poor in the tournament, although their uninspiring play so far will need to be turned around should they have any hope of overtaking their American counterparts.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm local time at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.