Jermaine Jones: US game plan to stymie Juan Cuadrado upset midfield balance

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In a match where the three-man US national team midfield showed a lack of cohesion for much of the evening, perhaps it was fitting that two members of that trio -- captain Michael Bradley and veteran Jermaine Jones -- had different opinions as to what went wrong in the Americans’ 2-0, Copa America Centenario-opening defeat to Colombia.

To Bradley, the difference between the Americans’ midfield performance on Friday vs. their final pre-tournament friendly -- a 4-0 romp against Bolivia in which Alejandro Bedoya, the third piece of the current midfield puzzle, notched two assists -- could be traced to a couple of key factors.

There was the tight-knit nature of Colombia’s midfielders, who grew even more taut after being allowed to sit back with a two-goal lead before halftime. There was also the simple fact that Colombia’s midfield -- featuring the likes of Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado and Monterrey star Edwin Cardona -- is considerably talented.

“They were very organized, closed space very well, made the game difficult on us,” Bradley told reporters in the mixed zone at Levi’s Stadium. “They didn’t necessarily want to step out and press us that high up the field, but they were very committed in terms of waiting for us at around midfield and then making sure that things were tight. And then when they won balls, trying to go quickly.”

From Jones’ perspective, however, the Americans were primed to lose the battle in midfield because they made such a major adjustment to deal with the specter of Cuadrado zipping up and down the Americans’ left flank that it unbalanced the US squad.

“The game plan was the whole time that we double Cuadrado on the left side, and that was, for me, the main thing,” Jones said. “So I have to give a lot of energy to work back and help [left back Fabian Johnson]. . . . So I came away from my own game.”

Essentially, the US was so concerned about Cuadrado -- who played in 28 matches, starting 16, during Juventus’ Serie A championship-winning campaign last season -- that they abandoned the scheme that made them successful in the run up to this tournament.

“I think that we have to be more focused on us, play with that what we have,” Jones said. “We have three midfielders where I feel like if we have a good game plan, we can put a lot of pressure on other teams. Today was more focused on Colombia and on the left side to help Fabi, so we lost one guy in midfield. So it was tougher to play, yeah."

The US will need to regain their cohesion in short order, with a critical Group A game against Costa Rica looming in just four days.

“It’s not just the midfield, it’s everybody being better, everybody being sharper, being able to make more of certain plays and – again, be more dangerous, be sharper, move a little bit better,” Bradley said. “It’s the whole package.”