Can the United States upstage the South Americans in their own celebratory tournament on home soil?
Come 3rd June, all eyes will be on Santa Clara, California as the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) take on Colombia in the opening match of the Copa América Centenario.
The competition is a celebration of the centenary of both CONMEBOL and the Copa América which has been held between South American nations since 1916. This year’s tournament which runs from 3rd to 26th June is the first Copa América that will be hosted outside of South America.
Head Coach: Jürgen Klinsmann
Jürgen Klinsmann is a German head coach, who had relative success with both Bayern Munich and the German national team. Fans of the USMNT have a similar feeling towards for the former striker as Manchester United fans did towards Van Gaal in the 2015/2016 season. Both are high profile managers, both have a history of success, and both are stubborn in their ways. The fans thank both of them for setting foundations in terms of youth (he has brought many young players and dual-nationals into the team) but want them out so that their teams can succeed.
The USMNT have had some good results with the German in charge, including an inspiring 2014 World Cup run, but his inconsistent line-ups, formations, and most importantly results, have left many fans feeling uneasy. Klinsmann has told reporters that his line-up could change throughout the tournament, so trying to predict a line-up would almost be impossible. One thing USMNT fans do have to look forward to is that Klinsmann has shown he can get it done against big teams, and the South American teams have unexpectedly brought top quality squads to this year’s edition.
Key Players: Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, John Brooks
Two defenders and a defensive midfielder are the USMNT’s key players. If the United States are going to go far in this tournament, then the must have a strong and organized defence. Michael Bradley, who now has an incredible 113 caps for the US, will sit in front of the back four, make interceptions, and start counter attacks.
In an alternative starting line-up, Bradley may start in a more forward position in the midfield with Kyle Beckerman or Jermaine Jones (or both) starting behind him. If so, Bradley will be able to be more creative and much more dangerous on the counter. He will still be harassing opposing midfielders, along with the key role of bringing the ball forward. Expect him to work tirelessly in a box-to-box role if he has cover behind him.
Fabian Johnson and John Brooks are arguably the USMNT’s best players right now, with Geoff Cameron deserving an honourable mention in that debate. 23 year-old Brooks has played well for Hertha Berlin who were overachieving for much of the Bundesliga season. He hasn’t seen much time for the USMNT, but if his dominating performance against Ecuador is anything to go by, expect the 6’4″ centre-back to be the final man in the defence, using his towering stature to keep balls from getting to any opposing strikers.
Fabian Johnson is an interesting case. The USMNT has been struggling to find a good left-back, with the best of late being DeMarcus Beasley, a converted winger with plenty of pace. However, Beasley has now retired from international football, so the national team have been looking for a replacement.
Johnson was originally a left-back, but this season has found himself mostly playing winger for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Germany. He was one of their top players, offering plenty of creativity and even managed to bag six league goals in their push for the Champions League places. The USMNT has played him as a winger, where he has excelled, but right now he is needed at left back. Expect him to be bombing forward every chance he gets during the tournament.
Style of Play
Trying to decipher how Klinsmann will want his team to play is an impossible task, especially for an amateur football writer. The US starts many games by controlling possession – passing and passing, getting nowhere only to eventually concede possession and become a counter-attacking team.
With the best midfielders in the team being defensive-minded, they naturally form a counter-attacking style as the game progresses, especially against teams that like to play possession-based football. We may see a 4-5-1 on paper that will more likely be a 4-3-3 on the pitch. The three central midfielders will likely be two holding, with one in front of them being creative, bringing the ball forward, and finding wide players.
The wide players will likely be “quasi-forwards.” Bobby Wood, Gyasi Zardes, Christian Pulisic, Graham Zusi, or possibly Alejandro Bedoya will know that with a strong defensive triangle in the centre of the pitch, these wide players can bomb forward. Dempsey is not fast enough to be making runs in behind, so expect the two wide players to make those runs. If Dempsey does not start, Wood or Zardes are not physical and skilled enough to do enough on their own and will need wide support. The wide players starting positions will be high up the pitch, making them practically forwards.
The full-backs (Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin, and possibly Cameron) all like to get forward. So much so that for both club and country these players have been played in midfield as much, if not more, than in defence. They will be bombing forward all game, meaning plenty of over-lapping and pressure on the wings.Negatively, this means that there will be a lot of holes when the full-backs go forward, especially on the right side as DeAndre Yedlin often goes forward without thinking.
How Far Can They Go?
The USMNT find themselves in a tough group. Both Costa Rica, who went the furthest of any CONCACAF team in the 2014 World Cup, and Colombia, currently ranked 4th in the world, will make the group highly contested. Only two of four teams advance, and the US will want to be in at least the knock-out rounds of a tournament on their own soil.
Let’s assume that Paraguay, with a fairly inexperienced squad, lose to the other three teams in Group A. There’s one win for the United States. Costa Rica is a familiar and tricky opponent, but the US should have enough to scrape out a win or at the very least a draw. Colombia are dangerous, with a lot of players that will prove too physical for the USMNT to handle. Going forward, US players will be pushed off the ball and defensively be overwhelmed. If the US central midfielders can keep James Rodriguez from finding passes in behind, then the US may be able to handle the South American’s attack. If the USA pulls off a draw or win, then they will get through the group stage.
The USMNT has an awful record against South American teams, but under Klinsmann they have shown they can punch above their weight. With teams like Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Brazil bringing nearly full-strength squads, the US oddly have an advantage here. I am of the opinion that if somehow the US could have beaten Belgium at the 2014 World Cup, they then would have beaten Argentina in the next round as the US does well against teams that play that style of football.
Obviously there are players that can win a game on their own in many of these teams, but if the USMNT play a consistent line-up and as a team, then they can go very far, maybe even lift the trophy on home soil.