Copa America: Colombia proves USMNT can’t rely on hope alone

SANTA CLARA, California— There was an air of optimism in the light rail car. Part of this was because there is always an air of optimism in Silicon Valley, and the shiny new train down to Levi’s Stadium hums along … Continued

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SiriusXM Editor
June 7, 2016

SANTA CLARA, California— There was an air of optimism in the light rail car. Part of this was because there is always an air of optimism in Silicon Valley, and the shiny new train down to Levi’s Stadium hums along nicely through the VC baron’s optimism made manifest. A larger chunk of that optimism was because the heavily-outnumbered American fans thought they had a chance against Colombia. Thanks to Bobby Wood, Bobby Wood’s biceps, and a modern 4-3-3 formation the Americans could take on a great Colombian side.

This took place on Friday, so you know by now: they couldn’t. The US was completely outclassed at Levi’s Stadium and lost 2-0. Bobby was silent and the other young stars were either late-game subs (Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic) or surrendered a crippling handball penalty (DeAndre Yedlin). Hope and optimism, it turns out, can’t hold a candle to confidence and Colombia’s significant skill advantage.

Because Colombia was confident, oh-so-confident. They warmed up not on the field, roasting in the mid-afternoon sun, but in the climate controlled locker room. I imagine an NFL locker room has plenty of space for 23 dudes to go through their paces. Colombian fans were having an absolute blast throughout the tailgate, blasting either Juanes or someone who sounded a lot like Juanes and chanting “¡America, Colombia es tu papa!” José Pékerman is the sort of tall, terrible man who would have statues of him in town squares if he was born 200 years ago. Compared to the harried dad vibes of US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Pékerman is a goddamned Napoleon.

Klinsmann was outcoached, too. By putting his best attacking player, Fabian Johnson, at left back Klinsi was begging to let his star get neutralized. Juan Cuadrado, installed on the Colombia wing, was happy to oblige. Keeping Johnson pinned back all game. The US was disciplined in the early going for sure, but they didn’t have any attacking plan. Which is only a bad thing if they went down a goal early.

Colombia scored off a corner in the eighth minute. It was brilliant tactics, followed up by a gleeful celebration. It’s hard not to root for the Colombians when they play like this. Many in the press box agreed and celebrations rang out after Zapata slammed the ball home. The celebrants weren’t just the journalists wearing Colombia jerseys, but yes there were journalists wearing Colombia jerseys in the press box.

The next 82 minutes of game time was simply an eventuality. There was probably a little bit of optimism left after the Zapata goal – there’s usually at least a little bit of optimism left – but the Americans on the field looked clueless and their counterparts in the stands looked hopeless. And those Colombians were confident. I’ve never heard “¡Olé!” chants as early as the 56th minute before. By the 70th minute, Colombians were drolly warning each other “No celebrar por favor,” (“No celebrating, please”) in mockery of the uptight Americans working Levi’s Stadium.

A huge amount of pregame hope led to an awful lot of in-game mockery. It’s not that the Americans were bad — John Anthony Brooks and Geoff Cameron were an indomitable defensive pairing and Christian Pulisic looked quite clever once he got on the field. It’s just that they didn’t have a chance, and Colombia knew it. The question wasn’t “How will the US come back in this one?” It was “Would I call that Colombian yellow ‘canary’ or ‘high-viz’ yellow?” [“Canary” on first usage, “murder yellow” on subsequent. -Ed.]

Sometimes you’re an underdog and that’s what fuels you. This has been the American soccer way for over a decade: McBride’s header, Dempsey’s surl, “Goal, Goal, USA!” and all of that. Most of the time you’re an underdog for a reason and don’t stand a chance against the world’s best teams.

What happens next? If the US can persevere against Costa Rica, or at least nab a tie, they have a decent shot at getting through the group stages. The math is in their favor, if not the moral arc of the universe. As has been said many times, and in many places: the US doesn’t play proactive soccer. There are many times they don’t seem to play soccer at all. It’s so difficult to find an identity for the Klinsmann-era Yanks that even Nike doesn’t have a pithy statement to rally fans around. None of that is going to get solved by the knockout rounds of the Copa America Centenario.

The light rail was a whole lot more hopeless on the ride out from Levi’s Stadium. The Americans had just spent several hours in the sun watching their team play a chess match with checkers. American frat brothers looked exhausted and the mom-and-pop element of the fanbase was actively scrambling for answers for their children. One tween, wearing an improbable Graham Zusi jersey, had a thousand-yard stare. The US Men’s National Team has spent five years trafficking in hope and calling it confidence. Leaving Levi’s Stadium on a Friday, it was clear their fanbase had neither.

This post was composed by soccer know-it-all and swell guy, Asher Kohn. Reach out to him and discuss all the soccer happenings from around the world on Twitter at:@AJKhn.