After the initial shock of who the U.S. Men’s National Team drew in the Copa America Centenario, the reality sets in and now it needs to be determined if the USMNT can possibly make the knockout stage.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the tournament is still over three months away so just about anything can happen in between now and then, but it isn’t all dour for the USMNT. The team can realistically advance to the knockout stage given that they are in a colossally difficult group.
Let’s look at arguably the worst team in the group. Paraguay was drawn into group A and while they were arguably the toughest team in their pot, all four teams were beatable. Paraguay may bunker down defensively, but the USMNT should be able to, and better score against Paraguay in Philadelphia to get three points.
Next, the USMNT was drawn Costa Rica as their CONCACAF opponent. Not going to lie, Costa Rica is far better than Jamaica, Panama and Haiti but the USMNT has beaten them before and can do it again. Similar to Paraguay, Costa Rica will go defensive but they are beatable. Even though the USMNT has a two game losing streak against Costa Rica and the last time they did win was in the snow three years ago, it’s not impossible for the USMNT to win.
Now, we get to the big game, Colombia. Granted, they didn’t get the defending Copa America champions in Chile, but Colombia is going to be just as formidable. While I fully see a Colombia victory, this is where the USMNT must utilize any and all advantages. Whether it’s trying to capitalize off of many Colombian players getting over a long club season, while having a squad sprinkled with MLS players or taking advantage of the heat of June in Santa Clara, they will need to pull out all the stops.
Considering that the USMNT must play Colombia first, this means their toughest game is out of the way first and that could be an advantage for them, especially if they get a result against Colombia. This has been a team who has historically been better playing from behind and when they are the underdog. That happened when they were in an even tougher group at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and in friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands. It may not be best way to approach things but it’s what they have been doing.
There is no doubt that regardless of how the team performs, it’s going to be tough for the USMNT. I can realistically see them finishing 4th. On the other hand, given what the USMNT can potentially do, they can make it to the knockout stage. Either way, advancement or not, it’s going to be a formidable test for 2018.