SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Disappointment surrounded Jurgen Klinsmann and the US national team after their 2-0 defeat to Colombia, in the opening game of Copa América Centenario, on Friday night at Levi’s Stadium.
But Klinsmann’s counterpart was not jumping to early conclusions.
“We can't say they’re not good just because they're the United States,” said José Pékerman during his postmatch press conference. “Today might not be the best day to talk about how much the US has progressed because it was a tournament debut where expectations on them were very high, and I think Colombia's merit made them look a bit bad.”
“I think the US has very good players and it's a team that's able to recover and have good games. They're also bringing some new players into the fold, so we shouldn't be too drastic because I still think they have what it takes to continue to grow.”
Pékerman reinforced his belief in his own team rather than criticize his opponent, and highlighted key instances where the US proved a difficult challenge for his players. The Argentine was specifically impressed with Clint Dempsey’s ability to force the Colombian backline to make mistakes.
“We had to commit some fouls because Dempsey is a very intelligent player, and generates a lot of danger,” said Pékerman. “He was their man up top and he’s not a natural No. 9 which allowed him to pull back; and that doesn't mean they lose depth, instead he creates chances for both wingers who make very dangerous diagonal runs.
“That situation forced us to get to the ball a bit late in a few plays, and that's why we committed fouls close to the 18, which is normal when a team isn't able to find its position well.”
Colombia turned their own weakness, set pieces, in their favor and were able to score an early goal in the eighth minute following a corner kick by Edwin Cardona. Defender Cristian Zapata lost Geoff Cameron’s mark and found himself with a good position to kick the ball inside Brad Guzan’s net for the 1-0 lead.
Following the goal, the United States started to control possession and removed both Colombian playmakers, James Rodríguez and Edwin Cardona, from the ball. Colombia weren’t able to attack further and seemed to prefer to defend their lead, although the manager denied that after the game.
Pékerman, again, gave credit to his opponent.
“A goal always provides a lot of confidence and the team felt they could manage the game, but the United States forced us a lot to reset and find our positions again, because they were trying to tie the match,” said Pékerman.
“We weren't just sitting back trying to protect the lead, instead we wanted to possess the ball but [Jermaine] Jones and [Alejandro] Bedoya worked very well in the midfield taking the rhythm away from [Daniel] Torres and [Sebastián] Pérez. That affected us a little because it took us awhile to find the best positions for James Rodríguez and Cardona.”
Colombia had seven shots on target throughout the match and several chances that could have resulted in more goals against the US from attempts by Carlos Bacca and Cardona. A shot deflected by the bar and timely saves by Guzan were valuable in order to keep the score 2-0 for Colombia in the second half.
“We tried to take advantage of our chances and had more goal scoring situations, I can name a couple that were very close,” said Pékerman. “The United States is a very competitive team which is not easy to outscore and we have to show respect to them."
Colombia will next travel south to Pasadena, where they will face Paraguay at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday (10:30 pm ET | FS1 & UniMás).