Preview: USMNT faces uphill battle in Copa America opener against Colombia

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  • The USMNT and Colombia open Group A play Friday in Santa Clara
  • The United States last beat Colombia in 2005
  • 2 of 3 US wins vs. Colombia have come in California

After a successful pre-tournament run of friendlies, the United States is ready to make noise in the Copa America Centenario.

We think.

While the squad seems stronger than ever and the vibes have shifted to a positive nature, there are still plenty of unknowns as Jurgen Klinsmann leads the United States as hosts of the celebratory event.

[ MORE: PST predicts the group stage ]

The problem is the competition has also never been stronger.

Motivations of varying degrees will push each opponent beyond the feeling of a lesser importance on this year’s edition of the Copa America, and the United States will begin with as tough a test as possible. Pushed by both their moderate success in the 2014 World Cup and their failures in last summer’s tournament, Colombia – ranked fourth in the world by FIFA and undefeated in 2016 – will be as stiff a test as any.

A feeling of uneasiness for the United States mostly stems from Klinsmann’s team selections. A number of attacking players distinguished themselves during the pre-tournament friendlies, and the 4-3-3 system seemed to be a positive change, but does the fanbase really trust Klinsmann to implement what worked against Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and Bolivia? It still feels reasonable to expect the German to revert to the comfort of a 4-4-2 when the games matter, abandoning the recent signs of life.

[ MORE: PST Roundtable regarding Klinsmann at the Copa America ]

Will Darlington Nagbe or Christian Pulisic start? Will Michael Bradley sit deep or push forward? Which system will he employ? It has the feel of change, and yet as history has taught us, none can ever be too sure of predicting a Jurgen Klinsmann starting lineup.

What is certain is the expected nature of play the United States will face. Colombia manager Jose Pekerman encourages a heavily physical style of play, and expect Los Cafeteros to batter and bruise the US players while still looking good doing it. James Rodriguez is a brilliant and dangerous playmaker despite a down season with Real Madrid, and he will take center stage, aided by the flashy nature of Juan Cuadrado. Carlos Bacca is the target man in front of goal, while Daniel Torres will be tasked with breaking things up in the middle of the park.

What they’re saying

US Manager Jurgen Klinsmann on his squad – “They want to show the soccer world that we are ready here to compete. Obviously we want to do well, we want to get as far as we can in the tournament, but we want to showcase our game to the rest of the world because down the road we would like to host a World Cup again.”

Colombia manager Jose Pekerman on an injection of youth – “The door remains open for everybody else, but I want to try to consolidate this new project. I now have a team that is fresh, renovated and optimistic.”

Prediction

A lot of this rests on the shoulders of Jurgen Klinsmann. If he utilizes what worked in the warm up matches, the squad can muster a hard-fought draw, with a 1-1 scoreline fair. However, if the U.S. manager decides to revert back to old habits, Colombia can sit on the ball and pick the 4-4-2 apart. This match has a wide variety of possible outcomes, but if Klinsmann does his part, the players will reward him with a valuable point. Should the U.S. muster something in its opener, qualification for the knockout stage might be firmly in their grasp.

Squads

United States – Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Ethan Horvath (Molde IK); Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur); Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund); Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy).

Colombia – Cristian Bonilla (Atletico Nacional), David Ospina (Arsenal), Robinson Zapata (Santa Fe); Felipe Aguilar (Atletico Nacional), Santiago Arias (PSV), Farid Diaz (Atletico Nacional), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Stefan Medina (Pachuca), Jeison Murillo (Inter Milan), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan); Edwin Cardona (Monterrey), Guillermo Celis (Junior), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), Sebastian Perez (Atletico Nacional), Andres Felipe Roa (Deportivo Cali), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Carlos Sanchez (Aston Villa), Daniel Torres (Independiente Medellin); Carlos Bacca (AC Milan), Roger Martinez (Racing Club), Marlos Moreno (Atletico Nacional), Dayro Moreno (Club Tijuana)