To say the United States got off on the wrong foot in their opening Group A match of Copa America Centenario would be an understatement.
Now the Americans need to find the proper footing against Costa Rica in Chicago on Tuesday or face the embarrassment of early elimination from a tournament on their home soil.
“We put our back against the wall,” USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after a 2-0 opening loss to Colombia Friday night in Santa Clara, California.
Costa Rica and Paraguay, the other Group A pairing, played to a 0-0 draw yesterday afternoon in Orlando. It was the best possible result for the Americans as each team only earned a point. The U.S. is at the bottom of the group at 0, with Colombia at the top with 3.
“We’ll keep our heads held high,” center back Geoff Cameron said. “We know what we have to do. We have to win.”
That might be easier said than done after what transpired at Levi’s Stadium Friday night.
The Americans had their moments, but struggled and did not play near their potential. The Colombians made the most of their moments on Cristian Zapata’s first international goal in the eighth minute and James Rodriguez’s 42nd-minute penalty kick on a controversial handball call on DeAndre Yedlin in the penalty area.
That deficit forced the USA to chase the game.
“We always were maybe a step or two too late,” midfielder Jermaine Jones said.
The USA attack lacked the finishing touch. Clint Dempsey, 33, and the veteran of three World Cups, had the three best opportunities but could not connect.
It had to be disconcerting to Klinsmann that none of his young attackers could make goalkeeper David Ospina sweat. Forwards Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood did not make an impact and 17-year-old Christian Pulisic was given 24 minutes to pull off a miracle or a goal.
“We weren’t quite sharp enough or quite quick enough to be able to take some little advantages, or some half chances and really punish them,” captain Michael Bradley said. “They were ruthless in terms of their ability to know what the game was going to need and close space and make things very difficult.”
Given results from major international tournaments, history is not on the Americans’ side.
In previous World Cups, Copa Americas and FIFA Confederations Cups, the red, white and blue has reached the knockout round once in nine games when it lost the first game of the group stage.
The only exception occurred at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, when the United States dropped its opening two matches and needed a 3-0 win over Egypt in its last game while Brazil had to beat Italy by the same score. Incredibly, it got those exact results. Conversely, when the Americans won or tied their opening match seven times (5-0-2) they went through.
That doesn’t mean reaching the quarterfinals is impossible, but the degree of difficulty is that much greater.
Costa Rica might not be as good as Colombia, the third-ranked team in the world, but the Central Americans pose enough challenges. Los Ticos reached the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals and are undefeated (3-0-1) in what is considered the CONCACAF semifinal round’s Group of Death (Panama, Haiti and Jamaica) during qualifying for Russia 2018. The Costa Ricans also have given the USA fits and losses on their home soil during World Cup qualifying.
They will be without standout goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who suffered an Achilles tendon injury playing for UEFA Champions League champs Real Madrid in last week’s final, so the reserve keepers will be under scrutiny. Strikers Bryan Ruiz (Sporting CP, Portugal) and Joel Campbell (Arsenal, England) are their main guns.
Yet, the USA is still hopeful.
“Only game one, still two more games to go,” Bradley said. “We have no choice but to respond in a big way.”