SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- All it took was one aberrational moment to undo one of right back DeAndre Yedlin’s better performances in a US national team jersey.
Down a goal to a powerful Colombian side, Yedlin couldn’t stop himself from instinctively turning his back on Farid Diaz’s cross in the 40th minute. The ball whipped around Yedlin’s left shoulder and caught his right hand, which had not been pulled tight against his chest.
Referee Roberto Garcia whistled immediately for a spot kick, which James Rodriguez converted in the 42nd minute for all the insurance the Colombians would need in a 2-0 win to open Copa America Centenario on Friday.
“It’s not like I tried to stop the ball with my hand,” Yedlin told reporters in the mixed zone at Levi’s Stadium. “It wasn’t blatant at all, but the ref thought it was blatant enough to call it. . . .
“In a perfect situation, I don’t turn my back to the ball. That’s obviously first and foremost, but human instinct sometimes tells you to do that, and unfortunately it got my hand and the ref thought it was blatant enough to call a penalty. It’s just those fine margins that can sometimes make or break a game.”
Although Twitter might have featured a raging debate about Garcia’s call, the US locker room was not nearly as boiling. Midfielder Jermaine Jones said he had watched the replay and flatly described it as, “it’s a penalty.”
"What do you do when you have that penalty called against you in your home country?" said Clint Dempsey. "We’re used to getting those types of calls even if it’s kind of close."
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, meanwhile, seemed more distressed over a lack of a penalty call in the Americans’ favor during the second half: “Obviously, the penalty decision was a major point in this game. But it is what it was. You cannot change it any more. He gave a penalty. He didn’t gave any in the second half on Clint, but that’s the referee’s decision.”
The penalty call was a second piece of misfortunate that took all the shine off what was an otherwise solid performance on the right side of the US backline. Geoff Cameron, playing alongside Yedlin, was victimized for Colombia’s first goal, unable to keep up with the movement of AC Milan defender Cristian Zapata, whose powerful finish from an Edwin Cardona corner kick left goalkeeper Brad Guzan no chance.
“I know I can do better and I should have done better on that,” Cameron said. “Originally, I went into the guy a little bit, and the ref looked at me and said, ‘Hey, put your hands down.’ And as soon as I looked away to see where the ball was, he left. Obviously, I’m disappointed and had a go at the ref, but that’s it. You live and you learn, and I obviously take full responsibility and I have big enough shoulders to accept that, and I can deal with it.”
Colombia, the world’s third-ranked team, were limited to four other shots on goal, most of which didn't serious test Guzan. Clearly, that was due in part to the fact that, up two goals at halftime, the visitors were satisfied to sit back and look for countering opportunities. But it wasn’t totally a matter of Colombia taking things easy.
“Overall, there’s a lot of positives that we could take from that game,” Yedlin said. “The key is that we don’t draw too much on the negatives; we try to fix them, we don’t draw too much on them. I don’t think the score reflected that game completely. . . . I think as a team we played pretty well. You’ve just got to take that performance and fix the things that we need to fix and take that into the next game.”