SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It’s a match-up of No. 3 in the world vs. No. 31.
Even if you don’t put much stock into the FIFA rankings, the prognosis for the United States national team’s Copa América Centenario opener against Colombia on Friday evening (9:30 pm ET, FS1) looks unfavorable when you compare the two teams in terms of talent and pedigree.
But the USMNT, while going out of their way to praise the attacking talent that Colombia possess and the defenders that patrol the backlines of some of the biggest clubs in Europe, had a message: these guys are beatable.
“Obviously when you face a team with that talent that they have up from – with James [Rodriguez], with [Carlos] Bacca, with [Juan] Cuadrado, [Edwin] Cardona – they’re all players, they’re all difference makers,” said US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann at his pre-match press conference on Thursday afternoon. “But obviously they’re also beatable. Every team has their strengths and weaknesses.”
Klinsmann cited the USMNT’s friendly wins against some of Europe’s biggest teams, including the Netherlands and Germany in 2015, over the last few years as evidence that his side – while often outmatched talent-wise – can “come up with solutions for big teams.”
One past friendly in the Klinsmann era that has caught the eye of observers in the lead-up to the Copa América opener was this exact match-up – a game played on neutral ground at London’s Craven Cottage on Nov. 14, 2014.
Though Colombia took that match-up by a 2-1 scoreline, multiple US players, as well as Klinsmann pointed to the US performance in that game as a positive in the build-up to this re-match on the big stage. But what, exactly, can they take from a friendly match that was played a year and a half ago?
“You take away the fact that they’re beatable,” USMNT defender Geoff Cameron told reporters on Wednesday. “You don’t let them get in their rhythm, step on their toes a little bit, make them uncomfortable, take them away from their game, don’t let them dictate the pace of the game.”
It’s not delusion, or even mis-remembering, on Cameron’s part, either. Though they eventually fell to their South American opponents, the US led for over half the game after a 10th-minute penalty conversion from Jozy Altidore before conceding an equalizer at the hour mark and letting in the winner three minutes from time. Specifically, the US players and Klinsmann pointed to the number of quality chances created as a sign that they could go toe-to-toe with one of the world’s top teams.
There was, however, at least one US voice that cautioned against reading too much into a one-off friendly game.
“Obviously it was a little while ago by now,” US captain Michael Bradley told reporters. “Friendlies are also different. We’ll certainly look back at that game and take what we can from it, but ultimately everybody has to be ready for a tournament-type game on Friday.”