Copa America Centenario
Geoff Cameron: "We Have to Believe in Each Other"
June 03, 2016
TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT. The United States national team will open its long-awaited Copa America Centenario campaign against a very strong Colombia squad (9:30pm ET; FS1, UniMas, UDN). So much is at stake for Jurgen Klinsmann and his team which has struggled since the 2014 World Cup but will now host one of the biggest tournaments in the Western Hemisphere since 1994.
Colombia is currently ranked third in the FIFA World Rankings and is the favorite to win Group A. As host nation, the United States will have friendly crowds and familiar environs, and it is also carrying the momentum of three consecutive victories against Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
Ahead of its opening game, the Americans displayed a healthy respect for its opponents.
“It's a good team from top to bottom,” team captain Michael Bradley said. “They have a good blend of guys who are technically very gifted and talented—also guys who will physically and athletically challenge us. It's just being ready in every way to compete and understand what each moment of the game will be about. We will find our moments to be able to play but making sure that the commitment from every guy to do what it takes to do.”
Colombia also enters the game on a three-game winning streak that includes a 3-1 victory over Haiti on Sunday night in Miami. In that game Club Tijuana forward Dayro Moreno notched a goal and an assist, while Juventus midfielder Juan Cuadrado and Racing forward Roger Martinez also tallied.
Colombia boasts a young roster with an average age of 25.5 and only three field players over 30 years old. The lteam is led by captain and Real Madrid midfielder James Rodriguez and AC Milan forward Carlos Bacca.
The United States' backline will face a significant test and Klinsmann is likely to start John Brooks and Geoff Cameron in central defense help keep the Colombians off the scoreboard. Cameron in particular indicated that the game could be physical early as both teams will try to set the tone.
“We've played them a few times and watched video,” said Cameron. “They're aggressive. They're sharp. They're technical. They're a very, very good team—a lot of good players. But we have to bring our game. We know that if we're physical from the first moment on and make our first imprint in a tackle or whatever. We have to be confident and believe in each other. If we do that, we can match them and match their effort and go above and beyond, we'll beat them.”
Along with Cameron and Brooks, the rest of the backline is likely to include DeAndre Yedlin at right back and Fabian Johnson on the left. According to Cameron, communication will be crucial and one key could be Michael Bradley who has been playing the No. 6 role, just ahead of the back four. When positioned there against Ecuador and Bolivia, the Yanks did not concede a single goal.
“It's just the communication from the back four and the defensive midfield,” Cameron explained. “Just being on the same page, everyone talking, and everyone communicating because they're so cleaver. They're technical on the ball. They like to do one-twos—small, quick, short passes to draw you out and slide the ball right through. We just have to be aware and focused for 90 minutes.”
The benefits of a strong Copa America Centenario performance could be huge for the United States. It could reverse the public perception that the team is heading in the wrong direction after a dismal fourth place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup and a loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup.
In the recent friendly wins, the U.S. looked aggressive and took the game to its opponents. It provided some optimism heading into the Copa America. Friendly wins, however, can be misleading and the U.S. team memorably defeated Germany and the Netherlands on the road a month before last year’s failed Gold Cup run.
The players, however, understand that Copa America Centenario provides the United States with a rare opportunity to host a major international tournament. As a result, big crowds and a huge level of media attention will follow the U.S. as it tries to establish itself as a formidable soccer nation.
“You're going to be nervous but just know that everyone else is nervous on the field as well,” Cameron said. “You’ve got to enjoy it and soak it up the atmosphere and the moment and use that as positive energy in a positive way. If you do that you'll have fun and if you're having fun, you're playing your best soccer. You've just got to enjoy it and be happy.
"You're here for a reason. You're representing your country for a reason—you're good enough. We all believe in each other.”
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.