June 3, 2016
Juergen Klinsmann has long talked of the Copa America Centenario as a measuring stick for his national team, a way to see how the U.S. stacks up against some of the world’s top soccer nations.
And based on its performance Friday the U.S. still has some growing to do, with first-half goals by Cristian Zapata and James Rodriguez lifting Colombia to a 2-0 victory before an announced Levi’s Stadium crowd of 67,439.
The game was the opener of the Centenario, the 100th-anniversary edition of the South American championships, a 16-team, 23-day tournament that is being played in the U.S. for the first time. In addition to Colombia, ranked third in the world by FIFA, the field includes four other top 10 teams in Argentina (1st), Chile (5th), Brazil (7th) and Uruguay (9th).
The U.S. hasn’t been in the top 10 in more than a decade — which is why Klinsmann insisted the Americans had something to prove.
“This is a big tournament for our program,” Klinsmann said. “This is a big benchmark. We want to see where we are between two World Cups.”
Where they are after Friday’s loss is in a big heap of trouble if they hope to advance out of group play, something Klinsmann has set a minimum goal for the tournament. To do that the U.S. must finish first or second in its four-team group, leaving it with little margin for error in its next two games, against Costa Rica on Tuesday in Chicago, then against Paraguay next Saturday in Philadelphia.
Colombia’s next game will be Tuesday at the Rose Bowl against Paraguay. A win there virtually guarantees it a spot in the quarterfinals.
Colombia, a World Cup quarterfinal two years ago, took charge Friday before the game was nine minutes old, with Zapata finding the back of the net on a right-footed volley off a corner kick.
Seconds earlier defender Geoff Cameron had done a nice job breaking up a dangerous play, stepping in front of a Colombian attacker and pushing the ball over the end line. But on the ensuing corner he lost track of Zapata and Edwin Cardona put the ball right on his foot about 12 yards in front the net. From there, Zapata had no trouble slotting it between keeper Brad Guzan and defender Fabian Johnson near the far post.
The score was the quickest in a Copa America opener in 17 years, and it was the first international goal of Zapata’s career. For the Americans, meanwhile, it was the worst-possible start because it left them chasing a goal against one of the best counterattacking teams in the world.
Then it got worse, with Rodriguez firing a penalty kick low into the right corner to double the lead just before halftime. Mexican referee Roberto Garcia awarded the penalty after defender DeAndre Yedlin turned his back on a cross and extended his arm, which the ball struck just above Yedlin’s wrist.
The U.S., meanwhile, didn’t put a shot on goal in the first half. Things got a little better in the second half, with Clint Dempsey putting a driving header on goal in the 60th minute, then spinning a free kick toward the post three minutes later. But Colombian keeper David Ospina laid out to block the first one, then leaped to get a hand on the second to deflect it wide.
Colombia’s best chance of the second half came with about 15 minutes left when forward Carlos Bacca came in on Guzan alone. But he put his shot off the crossbar.