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USA improves on Argentina showing but settles for fourth at Copa America

The U.S. fell to Colombia for a second time in three weeks, earning a fourth-place finish at Copa America Centenario.

The U.S. lost to Colombia 1-0 in the third-place game of the Copa América Centenario in Glendale, Arizona, on Saturday, settling for fourth place at a summer tournament for the second straight year after doing so at the 2015 Gold Cup as well.

Carlos Bacca scored for Colombia in the 32nd minute after a nice ball over the top of the U.S. defense from James Rodríguez, and Colombia held on despite a U.S. rally to beat the Americans for the second time in the competition and earn its best finish at a Copa America in 15 years.

Here are three thoughts on the game (keeping in mind that, since this was the third-place game, all these hot takes are actually mild takes):

The decisive moment was similar to the one against Argentina

The U.S. performed better overall than it did in the 4-0 loss to Argentina, but the Colombian goal was eerily similar to the first one scored by the Argentines. James lobbed the U.S. defense just as Lionel Messi had done on Tuesday to Ezequiel Lavezzi, and while there was one more pass this time, Colombia sealed the deal for an advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.

Both teams hit the woodwork—Juan Cuadrado for Colombia, Bobby Wood for the U.S.—but the decisive piece of quality came from a megastar (James) who was able to take a breath and figure out the best way to unlock the U.S. defense. In time, the U.S. will have players like that. As of now they aren’t around.

The U.S.’s substitution patterns remain head-scratchers

Once again, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann waited too long to make his substitutions—most notably Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe, who have been underused the entire tournament.

USA learns place on global stage during Copa America semifinal run

For a coach who constantly wants his players to “go for it,” there was precious little “going for it” when it came to his personnel decisions during the Copa América. Pulisic, in particular, has been in high-pressure situations before, such as playing in front of 80,000 fans for Borussia Dortmund and in rivalry games against Schalke this past season. Nagbe, too, is ready to play an important role in games like this one.

All you can hope is that now that the Copa is done, Nagbe, Pulisic and others who will be important in 2018 will get real opportunities to play in games that matter.

The U.S. had a pretty decent (but not great) tournament

In the end, finishing fourth was a heck of a lot better than the brutal fourth-place finish in last year’s Gold Cup. The U.S. won three games in this tournament on home soil against respectable opponents: Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador. It lost three games against Argentina and Colombia (twice), teams that are appreciably better than Klinsmann’s team right now. Saturday’s U.S. performance against Colombia was better than the one in the first game of this tournament.

Bottom line: The U.S. is what we thought it was. There’s a long ways to go if Klinsmann wants to achieve his goal of reaching the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup. But there are things to build on. Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are a reliable central defense pairing. Christian Pulisic could be a star. And Bobby Wood is going to be a good forward for this team.

We’ll see where it goes from here.