Date: Friday, June 3rd
Time: 9:30 PM Eastern (6:30 PM Pacific, 1:30 AM UTC)
Venue: Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, California)
Television: Fox Sports 1, Univision, Univision Deportes, Unimas, Caracol TV (Colombia), DIRECTV Sports Colombia, DIRECTV Play Deportes (Colombia), RCN Television (Colombia)
This is it.
Likely the biggest tournament of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure with the USMNT is upon us and it opens with a huge test. Colombia has been on the verge of becoming one of the most dangerous teams in South America, if not the World, but haven't been able to hit those heights yet. Both teams need a big result to kick off the tournament on the right foot, which sets up quite nicely for us watching.
United States Outlook
All the speculation leading into the game revolves around a few positions in the starting XI. First, and most importantly, where does Michael Bradley start? His best position is sitting deep, but Klinsmann has pushed him higher up the pitch leaving Kyle Beckerman to protect the backline. With Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones playing at a higher level than Beckerman, it seems obvious who the three in midfield will be, but we will have to wait and see if Klinsmann decides it safer to go with the old guard.
After where Bradley plugs into the lineup, the big question is when do Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic break into the starting lineup. Both are newcomers to the senior national team and are poised to play a key role in this tournament, at the start it is likely to be from the bench, but look for them to be inserted as the group stage progresses. Keep an eye out for when Klinsmann decides they need the extra spark and makes the move from the bench.
Lastly, the defensive line finally seems to be in place finally. Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are strong, experienced center backs. DeAndre Yedlin on the right is coming off a successful season with Sunderland where he proved himself to be of real quality. On the left, most people want to see Fabian Johnson pushed higher up the field, but he is more than capable at left back. The good news is if he is needed to be pushed higher, the recent performances of Edgar Castillo give confidence in his filling in.
While this is the biggest test the USMNT have faced since Belgium in the World Cup, this is the best the USMNT have seemed in Klinsmann's tenure. There is an organization to the backline for the first time under Klinsmann, there is a surging forward in Bobby Wood, and there are plenty of options off the bench that can make a real difference in the game.
Match Ups to Watch
James vs US Midfield
There's no question that the best player on the field will be James when the two teams meet. The question is in what James will show up. His World Cup 2014 form was off the charts. He was one of the biggest stars of the tournament, but since has been less than stellar. At Real Madrid he's fallen out of favor, at last year's Copa America he looked lost.
It will be the job of Bradley and Jones to make sure James has his hands full and unable to dictate the game. Expect Jones to take a very physical approach to this job. I wouldn't be surprised to see the German-American pick up an early caution to send a message.
Bobby Wood vs the Colombian Defense
Without Jozy Altidore at the tournament, Wood has arguably the biggest chance of his life. This could be the tournament he takes over as the American's top target. What a better way to state your claim than vs the 3rd ranked team in the world?
He's popped up for big goals in friendlies for the USMNT, but now is when it counts. Not only is this a big opportunity for him personally, it also means eyes are diverted from other points of the attack. If he proves himself as a threat early, it will give Clint Dempsey more room to operate and do what he does best.
Klinsmann vs Himself
Yes, the team seems to be coming together at the right time. Experienced veterans are healthy (for the most part), young stars are starting to come of age, and the disorganized back line is finally coming into shape. Now is the time for the team to shake off the post-World Cup slump.
Will Klinsmann second guess himself and slip back into what is comfortable? Bringing Michael Orozco in as a center back or pushing Cameron out to right back could have disastrous results. Even starting Beckerman and forcing Bradley to play out of his best position could be a horrible mistake. Klinsmann needs to trust the process and push forward. It could mean great things on the horizon if he does. However, if he doesn't it could be the beginning of the end.
The first half is going to be a slow one as these two sides have a load of expectation on their shoulders. They'll be feeling each other out, but a late first half goal from the Americans will bring about a wild second half. A Colombian equalizer soon after the half will have both teams happy with a point, but a late Pulisic winner will fully cut the brakes on the hype train and kick start a wild ride.
USMNT 2-1 Colombia
44' Clint Dempsey
52' Carlos Bacca
89' Christian Pulisic