Another day, another really bad loss for Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States national team. 2-0 was the final score at Levi's Stadium in the first match of the 2016 Copa America against Colombia, and, as has been a constant over the past few years, it was a bad result that could possibly prove consequential for the US.
This loss puts the Yanks at a serious disadvantage heading into the final two group games, especially if Costa Rica pick up the full three points against Paraguay on Saturday. It is very possible that they will be last in the group heading into Tuesday's match, meaning they would have to beat Los Ticos—never an easy task—and Paraguay in the final group game in order to have a chance at qualifying. I just don't know how likely that is.
I'm not saying it's not possible. Costa Rica are a familiar opponent without their starting goalkeeper and Paraguay aren't really all that great. Wins are possible, and with some help, they could survive with a draw in Chicago and the full three against La Albirroja.
But their performance against Colombia doesn't give much hope that they will be able to do what they have to do. This isn't like the time when they had to beat Guatemala at home to survive World Cup qualification. This is two tough games in a major tournament when nothing is going right and with a coach who appears to be unable to fix any of the major problems.
There was a myriad of significant and hard-to-fix issues that arose against Colombia. The midfield didn't create chances and couldn't play defense, the front three is comprised of players who are all playing in roles that they are clearly uncomfortable in, and the entire squad felt out of sync and unprepared. The stars didn't perform well, and bad mistakes—particularly on set pieces—plagued them throughout.
The midfield was possibly the biggest issue, and it's a really tough problem to figure out. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Alejandro Bedoya got the start in a 4-3-3, and I was mostly pleased, especially because Bradley would get to play in his natural position, defensive midfield. Bedoya is usually a good creator and can get wide when asked, while Jones has been in very good form for the Rapids in MLS. I didn't have any objections, which is rare with Klinsmann. But as it turned out, that trio was surprisingly ineffective both offensively and defensively.
Bradley, for one, committed bad turnover after bad turnover and didn't distribute nearly as well as usual. Playing in defensive midfield—which was the correct position, so props to Klinsmann on that one—he didn't look himself at all. Jones played a similar way, barely making an effect on the game while becoming sort of a defensive liability:
Like Bradley, he didn't create any chances and didn't play well on the defensive end. Jones had been very good as an advanced playmaker in Colorado, using his midfield destroyer abilities to wreck havoc high up the field and make plays that way, but against Colombia, he was a shell of his normal self.
Bedoya was given the opportunity to press higher up the field—with Jones and Bradley staying deeper—but he failed to make much of an impact on the offensive side. The midfield as a whole looked disjointed, incoherent and separated. This can't be blamed on Klinsmann, who put the correct midfield out there even if Darlington Nagbe should have been subbed on earlier. The stars didn't play like stars, and while there are still plenty of valid Jurgen complaints, the way Bradley, Jones and Bedoya played can't be one of them.
The front three, though, was even more ineffective, and that can be blamed on Klinsmann. The three attacking players of the US's 4-3-3—Bobby Wood, Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes—each was played out of position. Dempsey, a second striker, was played as a lone center forward, while Wood and Zardes, both natural center forwards, were played on the wing. That combination did not work. At all.
Dempsey's flaws when playing as a number-nine were on full display. He didn't hold up play at all, he barely challenged Colombia's backline with runs in behind, and he failed to receive any sort of service from the midfield. Too often, he dropped deep in the midfield in his quest for time on the ball, and when he did that, Wood and Zardes would pinch in and open up space on the wings for players like Juan Cuadrado to run into. That forced Jones and Bedoya to step out and help in those areas, and thus the US lost all midfield production because Dempsey was played as a center forward.
Wood and Zardes, meanwhile, are currently having their talents wasted on the wings. Wood is arguably the best young striker in the national team pool, but while he is deployed out of position, the US won't enjoy his consistent goal-scoring. The Hawaii native is speedy, a good passer for a forward, and is very adept at getting in behind the opposing defense while playing up top, but on the wing, he gets stranded and ends up not really doing much.
Zardes experienced similar difficulties. While he isn't as good a passer as Wood, he can be effective when asked to hold the ball up as a forward, and can score (or assist) scrappy goals consistently. The US lose this when he is played on the wing. In fact, it is counter-productive for the reasons mentioned above. That is a fault of Klinsmann.
What isn't, though, is the bad performances the stars put in, and the bad mistakes they made.
Bradley wasn't the only star who didn't play like himself. Right back DeAndre Yedlin didn't get into the attack nearly as often as he usually does, while Fabian Johnson—the fourth player Klinsmann played out of position—was the same way at left back. Center back Geoff Cameron, who actually played very well from open play, fell asleep on a corner-kick early in the game and allowed Cristian Zapata to score the opening goal.
Nobody played well, despite the fact that Klinsmann used a serviceable lineup without too many fateful flaws. It was a bad performance, and one that could very well come back to haunt the US.