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What to watch for when the USMNT takes on Colombia

Photo by Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports

The U.S. Men’s National Team kicks off the Copa America on Friday night, and there are no shortages of storylines and trends to watch out for in the opening match against Colombia.

Set to face one of South America’s best, the USMNT enters on the heels of a three-game string of friendly victories over of Puerto Rico, Ecuador and Bolivia. However, while the three matches certainly boosted the USMNT’s confidence, Colombia will present an entirely new test that will likely be the most difficult of the group stage.

With stars like James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado scattered throughout their roster, Colombia is likely to be the more proactive team on Friday night. However, the USMNT will have chances of their own, especially if they take advantage of a major weakness displayed by Los Cafateros over the last several months.

Here’s a look at some storylines, trends and matchups to watch out for when the USMNT takes on Colombia:


After a year of playing in the midfield on the club level, Fabian Johnson’s return to the fullback position sees him matched up with a player capable of besting even the world’s best defenders.

In Juan Cuadrado, Johnson faces off with a player supremely quick with both his running speed and dribble ability. The Colombian star has the pace to blow past most players, while his flair and technical ability on the ball are counted among the world’s best. His end product may not always be flawless, but Cuadrado will, at the very least, cause havoc with his ability to slip past players in the open field.

Throughout his USMNT tenure, Johnson has proven to be a competent defender, but one still prone to the occasional mental  mistake. That cannot happen on Friday night. Johnson must stay disciplined, time his runs forward correctly and be prepared to corral Cuadrado when the Colombian works his way onto the ball. Johnson will likely require help with the latter, as the winger in front of him, likely Gyasi Zardes or Bobby Wood, should be prepared to track back often to help put our fires.

Johnson’s return to fullback will see him thrown right into the fire with a matchup that is one of the most intriguing heading into Friday’s match.


For all of their attacking flair, Colombia is not afraid to mix it up physically, and should be expected to do so on Friday night.

Both Geoff Cameron and Jurgen Klinsmann pointed to Colombia’s physicality, stating that they expected Friday’s match to be a typically chippy tournament affair. A physical team themselves, the U.S. is surely prepared to meet the South American side in that department in a match that could see its share of fouls.

The key will be to put forth that physical presence in an intelligent and tactical way. The U.S. must remind players like Rodriguez and Cuadrado that they can’t just blow by their defenders, but taking needless cards will help no one. On the other end, the U.S. must be prepared to battle through fouls and take full advantage of the opportunities that come in their aftermath…


For years. the USMNT has looked to win the set-piece battle, and Friday’s match will prove no different against a Colombia team that has struggled from dead ball situations.

In the build-up to the Copa America, Los Cafateros  have looked inept with their set-piece defending. Haiti was able to best Colombia on a set piece in last week’s friendly, while Ecuador was also able to score from a dead ball position. Even Bolivia, a team that the USMNT just thrashed, 4-0, troubled Colombia on set pieces. In three of their last five World Cup qualifying matches, Colombia has allowed a goal via a dead ball situation in what has turned out to be a worrying trend for the South American power.

Entering Friday’s clash, the USMNT should have every advantage on set pieces. Both John Brooks and Geoff Cameron are taller than their Colombian counterparts, Christian Zapata and Jeison Murillo, while Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood can all join the mix in the box. Add in the typically-spectacular service of Michael Bradley, and the USMNT certainly has the weapons to nab a cheap goal or two.

How many chances the USMNT get remains to be seen, but in a game where they will likely be on the back foot for extended periods, set piece situations against a defense that has struggled in defending them could prove the difference.


Even with his issues at Real Madrid, James Rodriguez is a superstar, one which the U.S. will need to watch closely on Friday night.

The 2014 World Cup served as Rodriguez’s coming-out party and, while the ensuing years may not have gone to plan from an individual perspective, the playmaker remains in an elite class. Rodriguez has the ability to carve open a defense with a pass or a long-range shot, making him the most dangerous player on the field on Friday night.

In defending him, the U.S. has several options. They could do so by committee, stifling Rodriguez from every angle while attempting to maintain their lines with the back four. They could man-mark him with someone like Kyle Beckerman in an effort to take him out of the game as much as possible. Or they could bunker in and dare Rodriguez to beat them, a proposition that could prove deadly at any moment.

However they choose to handle it, the USMNT faces a tough test in Rodriguez, a player who is the best the U.S. will see in the group stage.


In the run up to the Copa America, the USMNT demonstrated that they could win the possession battle. With a trio of impressive performances, the USMNT finally proved proactive with the ball and, in turn, was rewarded with three consecutive wins.

That will not come so easy on Friday night.

Playing against a Colombia team that is technically superior, the USMNT must be prepared to lose the possession battle. For large stretches of the game, the U.S. must be prepared to buckle up and grind through tough sequences and moments brought on by the Colombia attack.

That does not mean that the U.S. shouldn’t take it to Los Cafateros. Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense, and the U.S. should not completely concede the ball to the opposition. The USMNT should certainly look to build out of the back and wear Colombia down when they can, but must be intelligent in doing so.

Attempting to go blow-for-blow for 90 minute with Colombia could prove to be tactical suicide, so the USMNT must be prepared to weather some storms. That may see the USMNT lose the possession battle on the night, but it may help them win the war to come if they can grab a point from the Copa America opener.


  1. I disagree with much of this article. 1) Cuadrado is not the killer this article makes him out to be. Yes, he’s a good player, but he hasn’t thrived at the club level in multiple years and on multiple teams. FJ is the better player, if not a true defender. 2) Colombia is chippy, in a typical COMMEBOL way, but they’re not really physical. We have physical superiority over the vast majority of their roster, almost to a position. That’s hardly atypical, but it’s one area where I believe we have an advantage. 3) I agree we have a set piece advantage — but what else is new? Bradley’s set piece delivery, on the other hand, has not been what it used to be. Let’s hope he’s on his game. 4) This Colombia teams is highly ranked, but they’re not as good as the WC team. We should not be prepared to bunker and cede possession. It doesn’t need to be 50-50, but this US team should be able to hold their own, not bunker and counter.

    • 100% agree! The on paper match up may give them the advantage, but I like our team and game right now as long as we do not bunker and put an out and out defensive squad out there.

    • Right. Those stellar performances helping to take Juventus deep into the Champions league were the stuff of a subpar player. Johnson better than Cuadrado? Wow. if that’s true then Wondo makes Suarez look like a third rate striker. I guess anything is true if you want it to be.

      • I don’t know that Johnson is better but they are both starters for comparable clubs. I don’t think there’s a huge gap between them.

  2. Well seems like everything written about USA and Copa is pretty pessimistic. Feels like the media does not give our team any credit, only cries about how the other team has great players. But we have some pretty good ones as well. Wasn’t Fabian Johnson one of the best fullbacks in the last World Cup?

    We need to respect Columbia, but also bring the game to them. Beckerman starting is crap and being afraid of Columbia; us playing not to lose, rather than to win. Start Bradley, JJ, and Ale in the midfield and keep some possession.

  3. I’m OK with Bradley right now, I think kitchen is on the roster for a reason. A few younger players will break through and take a few more spots going forward and overhaul the roster within the next year

  4. Regarding James Rodriguez, there is an old adage that you don’t want an opponent’s best player to beat you. You want to take them out of the game so they have to rely on a lesser player. So I think you man mark him closely and try to deny him from getting the ball in the first place and whenever he takes the ball in the final third he should be double teamed when possible and advisable.

  5. Bradley’s set piece delivery is fine, but I don’t get this insistence on the short corner kicks. Those are fine on occasion, but not as our go-to play. I’m sure that’s JK’s call, not MB

  6. I am sorry Bradley’s service has been sub-par at best on set pieces. We are pretty bad on them ourselves since the JK reign began. Always looks like a lack of training ground preparation.


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