Three things we learned from USA vs. Colombia

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The U.S. national team kicked off its Copa America 2016 campaign with a 2-0 defeat to Colombia at Levi’s Stadium on Friday.

[ MORE: Positive vibes despite defeat ]

Two first half goals from Cristian Zapata and James Rodriguez did the damage as Jurgen Klinsmann looked frustrated but not too discouraged as his side battled hard but Clint Dempsey was thrice denied when big chances arrived.

[ MORE: Klinsmann reacts to loss ] 

The thousands of Colombian fans in the stands roared on their team to victory as they took hold of Group A of a tournament which celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the Copa America.

[ MORE: Brave Dempsey display ]

Here’s what we learned from a steamy Santa Clara as the Copa America on U.S. soil is officially underway.


MAN MARKING NIGHTMARE

The U.S. has started the game fairly brightly. Geoff Cameron had strode out of defense, performing a majestic Roulette before setting Gyasi Zardes on his way as Colombia scrambled his cross clear. Things were looking good for Klinsmann’s side. Then, man marking hit them hard.

In the seventh minute Edwin Cardona’s corner kick found Zapata in three-yards of space on the penalty spot and he hammered home a controlled first-time volley. 1-0 to Colombia. Momentum, gone.

The video below shows how the play developed and Colombia’s captain James Rodriguez must be given huge credit for his part in this. Watch how he wraps up Michael Bradley and pushes him into the path of Cameron which allows Zapata to steal a few yards. It was a clear case of man-marking gone wrong for USA. What can you do about it?

If you’re marking zonally then the chances of you getting picked off go down. You aren’t running around the box keeping an eye on one man. Yes, zonal marking has its flaws and you can often get caught flat-footed and there’s no way either has been proven to be more successful over the years.

That said, the man marking mix up set the tone for the U.S. after a bright start and although Colombia wasn’t at their best, they didn’t need to be to get the win. Klinsmann’s boys had two slip ups with the man-marking incident and DeAndre Yedlin‘s handball for the penalty kick and that was that. Playing against CONMEBOL’s best this summer, the U.S. were taught a lesson in ruthlessness.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 0-2 Colombia ]


DEMPSEY DILEMMA 

Clint Dempsey is still a very talented player and on Friday he came close three times with a curling shot, a header cleared off the line and a free kick which was saved superbly. He had to do most of the work on his own and in a position which isn’t his strongest. You’ve probably heard that before about Deuce.

Dempsey won his 125th cap and for most of the game he looked isolated and frustrated on his own in the central position. Just like at the 2014 World Cup, Dempsey showed he is not an out-and-out central striker but once again he was thrown up there and he dug deep.

He came close on multiple occasions and came closest when Sebastian Perez hacked his header off the line in the 60th minute as Dempsey looked to have grabbed a key goal for the U.S. just like he has so many times in the past. He then forced David Opsina into a wonderful save as his free kick (below) looked to be soaring into the top corner and he also had another snapshot deflected wide late on.

He kept plugging away up top but Dempsey is a mercurial talent coming towards the end of his career. He is someone Klinsmann can’t afford to cast aside and he needs to play him in his best position to get the best out of him. That’s No. 10.

If the U.S. wants to get out of this group, play Dempsey in his best position. If not, then don’t play him at all.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]


TIME TO START PULISIC, NAGBE

At this point, what have the U.S. got to lose?

In the 66th minute both Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe arrived on the pitch to huge cheers. They should start the next game against Costa Rica. The duo have that something extra, that little spark to unlock defenses and keep the ball. The U.S. looked cumbersome in the final third on Friday, often clipping the ball up to Dempsey and expecting him to do it all on his own. Why not start Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes through the middle, then place Nagbe off one flank and Pulisic on another with Michael Bradley and Dempsey in central midfield in a diamond?

Klinsmann has stated earlier this week that he isn’t wiling to play too many youngsters in this tournament because it’s a big deal and he wants to do well. However, the duo are ready. Chuck them in.

Pulisic is a teen sensation used to playing in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund and Nagbe is a talisman for the reigning MLS champs. The tournament experience they can gain from playing in the next two games will hold them in good stead for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It’s two years away and as we saw on Friday, the likes of Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya have been given plenty of time to impress but they both under performed and failed to dictate the tempo.

It’s time to hand the keys to the younger guys for the next two games. At this point, what’s the worst that can happen?