Cristian Zapata volleyed home the opening goal in the first ten minutes and James Rodriguez added a penalty right before halftime to give the favored Cafeteros a 2-0 win over the Americans to start Group A play in the Copa America Centenario.
The scoreline both accurately reflected the game and perhaps was unflattering to both sides. The USA in particular only threatened goal once, a Clint Dempsey free kick in the second half forcing a good save, while Colombia should've pressured for more goals and nearly had a third when Carlos Bacca rattle a shot of the bar late in the second half. Certainly on a better day, Colombia could've run away with this game and turned it into a rout.
What the loss means for the Americans is in the short term then now need at a minimum two results from their remaining games against Costa Rica and Paraguay. The other two teams in Group A play tomorrow, but anything less than four points from those games would likely eliminate the US from the competition. Colombia was the group favorite and a loss is not a complete failure because there were a few things the USA did well tonight. Sadly, they didn't do enough good things to overcome two mistakes in the first half.
1. The Set Piece Battle
The US under the best of circumstances can't be losing this battle, let alone losing it 2-0 in the first half and starting off by allowing a goal inside of the first ten minutes. Give Colombia credit on the first goal, that's a neat little pick play that no referee in the world is going to call back that beats Geoff Cameron and leaves Zapata alone to score. The second play, a penalty conceded by DeAndre Yedlin, was simply a mistake for Los Cafeteros to capitalize on.
There's no doubt in my mind, this is a penalty, because nothing good ever comes from having your arms anywhere near shoulder height in a soccer game. Yedlin's arm isn't in a natural position and he's trying to turn away from the ball and commits the infraction. There's a reason you see defenders stick their arms behind their backs and while conceding penalties is usually bad, this particular one sealed the USA's fate.
It's not Yedlin's fault, or the defense as a whole, which played fairly well to limit Colombia from doing more damage. But while set pieces put the US behind the 8-ball defensively, aside from one David Ospina save on Clint Dempsey in the second half, the Americans squandered their chances on set pieces and rarely threatened the Colombia net.
2. Klinsmann Deploys His Attack, Badly
What a 4-0 rout against Bolivia masked was the fact that Gyasi Zardes isn't that great of a winger and Clint Dempsey absolutely is not a target #9 forward. However, Klinsmann opted to set up the US attacking line in the same fashion and this time against a top opponent in a competitive setting, he got burned.
The US was dismal in the first half against Ecuador with a similar set up, Zardes on the left and Dempsey in the middle. It wasn't until Darlington Nagbe and Bobby Wood entered at halftime of the friendly that the US attack finally gained some traction. I do think these three players can work effectively but only if Wood is operating in the middle where Dempsey is a tactical hindrance.
Today, the US was losing and by the time Jurgen started to bring on subs it was probably too late. 25-minute shifts for Nagbe and Christian Pulisic just wasn't going to be enough time for the USA to dig themselves out of the hole they dug in the first half. Even if Klinsmann used a sub or even two at halftime, it was always going to be a long road back. Now the US head coach has to figure out a better gameplan in what has to be considered a must-win against Costa Rica.
3. If that's Colombia not at their best...
Then I fear what the Cafeteros can actually do when they're playing well. And it's not that they played badly here, this was a disjointed effort from both teams for the most part played in hot and humid conditions but it felt like Colombia got their lead and just played out the rest of the game.
That's not exactly a barnstorming display from Colombia there. I'm a big fan of expected goals as far as reinforcing the "eye test" and quite frankly that was a pretty tepid display from both teams.
What Colombia did have, unlike the USA and this is so often the case with Klinsmann's squad, is possession with a purpose. When Colombia did have the ball, they did something with it, generating 13 shots and putting 7 on target. The US meanwhile took 12 shots, had four blocked and only put two on target. Meaning that if both of said shots went in, the best the US could've done was a tie.
There were a lot of very solid yet quiet performances for Colombia as well, with midfielders Juan Cuadrado and Edwin Cardona making their presence felt in various ways but not necessarily on the scoresheet. It was Cardona's corner that Zapata nodded home, but Edwin also put three shots on target, more than the entire US team combined.
In essence, Colombia out USA'd the USA today, capitalizing on mistakes and set piece opportunities while playing sound defense and limiting their opponents to few quality chances.