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2016 Copa America draw: There is no group of death, USMNT will be fine

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Let’s begin this week with the most flaming-hot of takes: the U.S. national team, as with nearly everything in life, is fine.

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It is unspectacular in just about every way imaginable — it is truly unspectacular and joyless of late — yet still reliable enough to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and once again send a nation of nearly 320 million into soccer delirium in 27 months’ time, just as it has done every four years for nearly three decades now.

In much the same fashion, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side remains just functional enough to not totally embarrass itself at the 2016 Copa America Centenario.

The draw for this summer’s tournament was conducted Sunday night — alongside the Yanks in Group A are Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica — and the Yanks were handed a totally manageable field for a CONCACAF giant like themselves. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they should be expected to advance from that group. Doing so only requires they be better than Paraguay and Costa Rica.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic makes first Bundesliga start for Dortmund ]

Let’s break it down bit by bit: Colombia are really, really good — decidedly better than the USMNT — but must only be played once during the group stage; that Colombia are far and away the best side in Group A and not, say, Brazil or Argentina, is a massive assist for the hosting Americans. Paraguay are, like the USMNT, spectacularly unspectacular and on their very best day, South America’s seventh-best side. Costa Rica have won just four of their 13 competitive meetings with the USMNT this century, drawn three and lost six.

It could have been so much worse — Chile are the current Copa America holders and Uruguay possess some fellow named Luis Suarez; Jamaica are at present probably CONCACAF’s third- or — gasp — second-best side; and Peru are miles better than Paraguay, whom they brushed aside with ease in the third-place game at last year’s Copa.

[ MORE: The very latest on the Tim Howard-to-MLS rumors ]

If, as a soccer nation, the United States is suddenly terrified of Paraguay and Costa Rica, then Jurgen Klinsmann truly has broken our spirit, our hopes and our dreams, and replaced them with the kind of resignation to defeat that’s typically only suitable for fans of the Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire.

This is not a “group of death,” as so many in the States were quick to dub it Sunday night. Truth is, the USMNT at present isn’t generally good enough to be anything more than the third- or fourth-best team in a real group of death (CONCACAF doesn’t have four teams capable of this, let alone six to fill out a four-group tournament with two seeded sides). See, the group of death implies an equally daunting test for all four teams in the group, not that it’s simply a tougher test than USMNT fans would have liked, or even that it’s “the toughest group” of the four.

It’s a challenge and an ideal litmus test halfway to the next World Cup, to be sure, but if we’re wetting ourselves over the prospect of needing to win four points from games against Paraguay and Costa Rica, on home soil, you’re really not going to enjoy the next World Cup.

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT closes out group v. Panama

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It’s a fully-changed starting XI for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it closes out the group stage against Panama at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga start together in the backline, Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup up top, and Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis feature on the wings alongside Altidore. Ten of the 11 players now ply their trade in MLS, including the Gonzalez, who recently moved to Toronto FC.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Panama in Kansas City]

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

Must-See Goal: Wayne Rooney v. Orlando City

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Wayne Rooney just scored the most amazing goal in Audi Field’s young history.

In the 10th minute of D.C. United’s match against Orlando City SC on Wednesday evening, Rooney noticed Orlando’s Brian Rowe straying way off his line. And so, with an audacious but accurate attempt, Rooney let fly from 65 yards and SCORED. Just check this goal out below.

[FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Panama]

Rooney took advantage of a crazy bounce and with his literal first touch, unleashed a thunderbolt that Rowe couldn’t catch up to. It automatically becomes one of the top contenders for the MLS Goal of the Year, and should make it on every top ten countdown this evening and tomorrow.