The Copa America Centenario isn’t even a week old and Jurgen Klinsmann and the Americans are already on the brink of elimination.
The U.S. comes into Tuesday’s game against Costa Rica after opening the tournament with a lackluster 2-0 loss to Colombia. Normally, losing to the No. 3 team in the world wouldn’t be that devastating. But this tournament is incredibly important for Klinsmann’s tenure.
Klinsmann has continually claimed that the U.S. can beat any team in the world, and the Centenario was the perfect place to prove that. But Klinsmann and the Americans face being the first team eliminated from a tournament the U.S. is hosting for the first time. That will raise more questions about the team before the 2016 Olympics in Rio and qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
The U.S. sits one point of second place in Group A, and a decisive win over Costa Rica could put the squad back in control of its destiny. (Paraguay is the only teams it has yet to play in the group.)
Costa Rica and the U.S. are familiar adversaries, facing off many times over the years in CONCACAF qualifying. The highest profile game between the teams is the now-infamous Denver “snow bowl” they played in a blizzard in March 2013.
But if the Americans are to win Tuesday, they’ll need help from the spine of their team.
Michael Bradley is often claimed to be the best player on the team. Klinsmann has depended on Bradley to do everything for this team for quite some time. That seems to finally be wearing on him, even in his preferred position sitting in front of the defense.
Against Costa Rica, Bradley cannot have the stinker he did in the opener. He couldn’t maintain the U.S. tempo at the base of midfield. He also failed to cut off Colombia’s attempts to counter, and his giveaway led to the second goal.
For the U.S. to stave off elimination and beat Costa Rica, Bradley needs to have a better game and get the U.S. attack more involved. Klinsmann likes the 4-3-3 formation, but he might consider moving to a 4-4-2 to get Dempsey going. That switch would also likely slide Darlignton Nagbe into a No. 10 role that the U.S. desperately needs to unlock some of the more defensive teams in this tournament.
Costa Rica represents one such team. The Ticos play with five defenders and patiently sit back and absorb pressure until they look to spring Joel Campbell, who typically plays as their lone striker. To win this game, the Americans cannot afford to have another tame performance like against Colombia.
The U.S. wasn’t horrible on June 3, but it didn’t have to be for Colombia to win. If the Americans don’t want to be the first team eliminated from a tournament they would like to feature in in the future, they will need Bradley and the attack to step up.
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