OK, so the U.S. didn’t make it to the Copa America final. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still something to play for.
In fact, it’s almost poetic that Saturday’s third-place game between the Americans and Colombia features the teams that opened the tournament.
Does the 4-0 loss to Argentina — in which the U.S. didn’t manage a single shot (!) — still sting for many fans? Absolutely. But that shouldn’t overshadow the progress the team has made since its opening-game loss to Colombia. The third-place game represents a chance at something the Americans are quite good at: redemption.
Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood should all return to the side after serving suspensions in the game against Argentina — and they should put some bite back into the U.S. Jones is one of the most adept players that the U.S. has in midfield, capable of long runs, linking play, and doing defensive dirty work when Michael Bradley drifts out of position. Likewise, Bedoya is the classic midfielder who doesn’t get much credit for the job he does. Essentially acting as a utility knife in the middle of the U.S. formation, his job is similar to Jones’s but with a tighter leash and some old-fashioned discipline sprinkled for good measure.
It is no secret that the U.S. lacks a great deal going forward. That's why Wood’s return to the side will be impactful, as well. Clint Dempsey is easily proving doubters wrong about his age, but he can’t handle the offensive load alone.
This could be a chance for coach Jurgen Klinsmann to rotate the side, perhaps giving Darlington Nagbe or Perry Kitchen a run out in central midfield or looking to give Christian Pulisic another chance.
Pulisic is a promising prospect — he also happens to be new best friends with Lionel Messi — and could be a long-term answer on the wing or through the middle for the U.S.
For now, Klinsmann needs to rally his team after a shambolic performance against the No. 1 team in the world and try and turn it around against James Rodriguez, Carlos Bacca, and company.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, there’s a rematch of Argentina and Chile, last year’s finalists and two teams who also faced off in the group stages.
Both games were hugely entertaining, with Argentina dominating the match earlier in the month behind goals from Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega before Jose Fuenzalida scored a consolation goal in second-half stoppage time.
Di Maria’s status for Sunday’s match is still a mystery after he sustained an adductor injury early in the tournament. But the Argentines hardly need more attacking help. Messi has been lethal with his newfound lucky facial hair, while Gonzalo Higuain has been in quite some form as well.
Chile’s forwards are not to be trifled with either — Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas padded their stats in the 7-0 domination of Mexico. If the game turns out to be half as entertaining as the Group D clash or last year’s final, which ended with the Chileans winning in penalties, it will be quite the finish to the tournament.
Last year was the first time the Chileans had won Copa America, while the Argentines haven’t won it in 23 years. Could this be the first major tournament Messi brings home for his country? Or will Sanchez and Vargas get revenge for that early defeat in the tournament and win their second Copa America title in two years?
Either way, this 100th anniversary edition of the tournament has been quite a ride.
Photos: Shaun Clark/Getty Images (Dempsey, Messi), Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (Martinez), Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images (Chile 2015)