USMNT-Paraguay preview: Johnson, Yedlin key to knockout round berth

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This is the one that caused the most disagreement amongst USMNT fans after the Copa America Centenario draw.

Yes, the Yanks would be underdogs against powerful Colombia and considered favorites on home soil against CONCACAF foe Costa Rica.

But Paraguay. What about them?

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The United States is No. 31 in FIFA’s admittedly flawed rankings, compared with Paraguay’s 44 slot. That doesn’t take into account that stronger schedule of opponents Paraguay regularly faces being in CONMEBOL for World Cup qualifying purposes.

Even this tournament makes it hard to judge Paraguay. The South American side dominated Costa Rica but could only find a draw before losing to Colombia when it probably deserved a win.

Since the start of 2015, Paraguay hasn’t beaten anyone of merit — although Venezuela’s Copa America run begs to differ — but has drawn Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay and twice went level with Argentina.

The Yanks have played Paraguay just twice in the past decade, losing both, but the last one came in 2011.

In truth, this one is a toss up. Paraguay probably has an edge in skill and electricity in attack, but that’s a slim difference mitigated by the United States having home field and only needing a draw (barring an absurd result between Costa Rica and Colombia).

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Given the challenges of playing three matches in eight days, Klinsmann will likely make a change or two in his Starting XI after using the same group for the first two matches.

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25: Fabian Johnson #23 of the United States controls the ball against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Alejandro Bedoya is a prime candidate for a switch, as is right winger Gyasi Zardes. Darlington Nagbe, Graham Zusi and Christian Pulisic are all candidates to slide into those roles, though Klinsmann could also opt to move Michael Bradley up and use Kyle Beckerman at defensive/holding mid.

The U.S. is a slight favorite heading into the match, which is essentially a “pick ’em” in betting parlance. The question is who is going to be a difference maker for the squad come Saturday night.

Presumed fullbacks Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin will face a very stiff test on the outside, and both are integral parts to the United States attack. One of the joys of using center forwards as wingers is having them as targets in the crossing game, but Johnson and Yedlin will have to hedge their bets when surging forward.

We can’t with confidence predict the United States should or will win on Saturday, as we tend to side with Vegas here. We can predict that both sides will score and, with just a draw needed, that the U.S. will advance to the knockout rounds.