The Copa America Centenario kicks off tonight, with the United States taking on Group A favorite Colombia tonight in Santa Clara, CA. The USMNT comes into the Copa on the back of some encouraging results, defeating a strong Ecuador side 1-0 eight days ago before routing Bolivia 4-0 in their final pre-tournament friendly. Colombia, meanwhile, is listed as the third best team on Earth according to FIFA's (potentially meaningless) rankings. On the other hand, their last game - a 3-1 win over Haiti - and their current spot in CONMEBOL's World Cup qualifying table (5th place out of 10 teams) are not exactly the hallmarks of a juggernaut.
Nonetheless, Colombia will be solidly favored to win tonight's game by most observers. With James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado in the fold, they'll take the field with the two best players on either team, and their head coach Jose Pekerman - once rumored to be a potential USMNT boss - should have a major advantage over Jurgen Klinsmann in terms of his preparation and the clarity of the vision he presents to his team.
Los Cafeteros may be the favorite, but the US could really use a point from this game. Costa Rica is up next for the USMNT, and recent results point to that being an encounter that could go either way. In any four team round robin format, a team that loses their opener virtually always needs to either win their remaining two games or go 1-1-1 and get some help along the way. In a vacuum, a USMNT loss to Colombia would be an understandable result. In reality, a loss tonight, regardless of how good the opponent is, puts the Americans in a very difficult spot.
United States starting 11:
Colombia starting 11:
#USAvsCOL Este es el once inicial de nuestra Selección: Ospina; Arias, Murillo, Zapata, Díaz; Torres, Pérez, Cuadrado, Cardona, James; Bacca— Selección Colombia (@FCFSeleccionCol) June 4, 2016
What are you drinking?: If I stay home, I'm going with Monocacy Brewing's Riot Rye ale. If I opt to hit a bar, it'll depend on what they have on tap.
Prediction: Colombia is known for pressing high up the field, and I think that will turn the game in their favor. It's not just that they're the more talented team; it's that the USMNT's back four seems very likely to have a costly giveaway, and I don't think Klinsmann will have adequately prepped his players for what's to come.
Colombia will take the lead via that pressure and largely dominate the first half. However, I expect to see the US score early in the second half on a set piece - I'm thinking John Brooks gets the goal - and briefly look like they might be able to pull off an upset. However, Colombia's individual talent will end up being a bigger factor, and Carlos Bacca will grab a somewhat late game-winner. 2-1 Colombia.
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