FRISCO, Texas – While most FC Dallas personnel will be supporting the red, white, and blue come Friday when the 2016 Copa America Centenario kicks off, a good portion of the team may be leaning the other way.
With a head coach (Oscar Pareja) and four players (Fabian Castillo, Michael Barrios, Carlos Lizarazo and Juan Estaban Ortiz) who hail from Colombia, there’s bound to be plenty of friendly banter throughout the FC Dallas locker room.
Kellyn Acosta, who has played for the US senior and U-23 national teams, said there were friendly bets made in the Olympic qualifying series in March, and that only Victor Ulloa had his back in favoring the USMNT. While no bets are on the table this go-around, the Colombians in Frisco are expecting a quality match.
“It’s going to be a dynamic game,” Lizarazo told MLSSoccer.com through a translator. “It’s an important game – it’s opening up the tournament. I think Colombia’s in a comfortable spot. The players seemed to do well during the World Cup, and Coach got them results. So I think it’s going to be a great game.”
While Lizarazo said Colombia is “comfortable,” he and the rest of FCD’s Colombian crew aren’t taking the USMNT lightly.
“It’s definitely a team they need to respect, with many players playing for the best teams around the world,” Lizarazo said of the US side. “It’s a team that has a lot of trajectory and a lot of respect.”
Pareja added complimentary words about the USMNT, too. “The perception in Colombia about soccer here in America has grown a lot. Very respectful with the evolution too. I think it’s noticeable, and the results are there," he said. "The national team has proven it can be a very competitive national team, and Major League Soccer has grown tremendously. All of that together [shows] anyone in the world, not just Colombians, that soccer here has grown.”
Pareja himself notched 11 caps for Los Cafeteros and has witnessed the evolution of Colombian soccer, while contributing to the growth of the game in America. And according to him, the US is not the only place soccer has improved over the years.
“Colombian football has evolved,” Pareja said. “We’ve had more players in international competition, in the best leagues in the world and best teams in the world. So that gives us a different pedigree.”
All four players and Pareja said they would side with Colombia, of course. For Pareja, the decision to root for his native country is firm, but more difficult than the others’ due to the amount of time spent on American soil.
“I have spent the last 21 years of my life here and have grown here in the USA – a lot of dreams and a lot of things,” Pareja said. “I just see and hope for both teams to show how much they have grown in the game, and for me I just get delighted about it.”
Putting on his analyst hat, Castillo said both sides are strong entering Copa America, but that Colombia are strong all the way across the board. “I think their biggest strength is that they’re a very united, cohesive group,” he said. “I really don’t see a lot of weaknesses as of right now.”
As for who he thinks the favorite is, he was a bit less committal.
“I think they’re both favorites,” Castillo said. “I think they’ve both grown tremendously over the last few years. I think it’s going to be a good game – may the best team win.”