5 Thoughts on the United States' Win Over Bolivia
May 29, 2016
AFTER AN EASY WIN AGAINT BOLIVIA on Saturday night, the United States men's national team will now head into the Copa America Centenario opener against Colombia with the momentum of three straight wins in a seven-day span. The friendlies served a useful purpose in showcasing the team’s strengths and challenges moving forward.
Here are five thoughts I have on the state of the team at this important juncture.
1. Bedoya was the difference maker
Against Bolivia, Alejandro Bedoya, 29, had one of his best U.S. national team games in a long time. It capped off a good week for the former Boston College standout who had four assists in three games.
There are a lot of players on the United States team who have been playing well heading into this tournament and Bedoya is certainly one of them. After a good second half of the year with Nantes, Bedoya looks to have cemented his spot in the U.S. team’s starting lineup for the start of Copa America
Bedoya has always had the potential to be an impact player for the U.S. and has had some nice moments in major international tournaments, but he has never established himself as an automatic starter. He is in a good spot to stand in the spotlight now.
2. How will Dempsey do in a 4-3-3?
Jurgen Klinsmann has to be wondering how to get the most out of Clint Dempsey. Right now the 4-3-3 is working pretty well for the team but not so much for Dempsey, who has been in the central forward role. In this position, Dempsey can become a a bit isolated. Throughout his career he has always thrived with a forward partner in a 4-4-2, and at 33 years old, this is more important now than ever.
Dempsey’s best moments this week have come when he has either drifted back into the midfield—against Ecuador he created a golden chance for Zardes from this spot—or when a winger has cut centrally. Unfortunately, this has not happened nearly enough.
Due to the two friendlies, the U.S. has only had a few days of training since the full team assembled on Monday. With the Copa America Centenario opener not taking place until Friday, it will be interesting to see how the team evolves before the Colombia match. Finding a way to get Dempsey involved should be a huge priority.
3. Jones and Zardes rebound
Bolivia was an overmatched opponent but Gyasi Zardes and Jermaine Jones should be more confident after the 4-0 blowout, as both players improved upon their poor showings against Ecuador.
Klinsmann has always liked Jones—especially when the stakes are high. Jones has skill and athleticism, but he also brings the intangibles. His performances with Colorado and New England over the past year are exhibits A and B. He plays with an intensity that is infectious, and he elevates those around him.
Even at 34 Jones can be very intimidating to play against. Opponents do not want to have the ball when Jones is nearby. That alone can affect the game. He can play with nastiness that is not always dirty but it does bring bite to the midfield. Right now, there is no other player who brings that element to the U.S. side and Klinsmann recognizes this. The question about how much longer Jones can play at this level remains to be seen but for this summer, he is still a big part of the equation.
For Zardes, consistency is the issue. Good Gyasi was on display Saturday against Bolivia while the bad version suited up against Ecuador on Wednesday. When he makes quick runs into the box and has to finish quickly, he can be very useful. His speed can open up doors and in his opening goal against Bolivia, he did well to get behind the defense and finish Bedoya’s pass with his first touch.
The problem is that Zardes is not always effective. Against Colombia, the game might be more suited for him. Even while the U.S. is playing well, Colombia will likely have a majority of the possession and the ability to counter attack will be important.
4. Nagbe and Pulisic
After the win over Bolivia, Klinsmann stressed that the team that starts Copa America Centenario won’t necessarily be the one that finishes it. In other words, the coach sees a lineup that evolves and transforms during this tournament.
Heading toward the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying, this summer's big tournament could be the turning point where a significant changing of the guard takes place. Such a change has seemed necessary since the last World Cup and it was reinforced during the Yanks' poor showing at the 2015 Gold Cup.
Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe have changed the dynamics of the team as well. It's only a matter of time before both are first-choice starters—especially in significant contests.
Listening closely to Klinsmann’s words, it seems like the game against Colombia might be too soon for this pair but that changes will come against Costa Rica or Paraguay.
5. Roster Musings
Here is the starting lineup, a 4-3-3, I strongly believe Klinsmann will use against Colombia: Guzan; Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, Johnson; Bedoya, Bradley, Jones; Wood, Dempsey, Zardes
If Klinsmann indeed switches up personnel in the latter part of the Copa America group stage, it will be interesting to see who gets bumped for Nagbe and Pulisic. To start Pulisic in a 4-3-3, the most likely scenario is that Zardes swaps out for Pulisic.
Starting Nagbe will be a more interesting change because that will require benching a player who is very entrenched in the team. In a 4-3-3, Nagbe can only really start if one of Jones, Bedoya, or Bradley is benched (along with Beckerman, who might be slipping anyway).
If the team shifts to a 4-4-2, there could be room for midfield of Bedoya, Bradley, Nagbe, and Jones although that leaves Pulisic out—assuming the starting forward pair is Wood and Dempsey.
The other option could be a 4-2-3-1 which Klinsmann has utilized many times in the past. In that formation, Bradley and Jones could sit deep in the midfield behind Bedoya, Nagbe, and Pulisic. The question then becomes who would play alone up top? Either Dempsey or the surging Bobby Wood would have to sit.
This doesn’t mean starting Nagbe is impossible. In fact, it will most certainly happen at some point because the U.S. plays better when he’s on the field. The question remains though: Who sits?
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.