The Copa America Centenario begins on Friday, June 3rd with the United States Men's National team facing Colombia in Group A action. This match between arguably the two best teams in the group should be a thrilling opener.
Both teams will be very confident as they each head into the tournament with three game winning streaks. The 3rd ranked Colombians will be led by the trio of James Rodriguez, Carlos Bacca, and Cristián Zapata.
Star midfielder and captain James Rodriguez will be familiar to USMNT fans, as he plays for Champions League winners Real Madrid. The tricky attacking midfielder is known for his lethal passes and strong crossing ability.
James may be out of form after spending much of the past few months on the bench for Real Madrid; however he should be well-rested and looking to impress ahead of a likely summer transfer.
A.C. Milan striker Carlos Bacca is the best goal scorer on Colombia's roster and netted 20 goals in all competitions for Milan this past season. Bacca is a pacey, hardworking poacher.
Centerback Cristián Zapata is Bacca's teammate at A.C. Milan. The 6'2'' veteran Zapata is dominant in the air and great at building out of the back.
Look for Colombia coach José Pékerman to deploy a 4-4-2. Los Cafeteros tend to be very physical and play at a high tempo.
Defenders: Felipe Aguilar (Atletico Nacional), Santiago Arias (PSV), Farid Diaz (Atletico Nacional), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Yerry Mina (Sante Fe), Cristián Zapata (AC Milan), Jeison Murillo (Inter Milan), Stefan Medina (Pachuca)
Midfielders: James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Aston Villa), Guillermo Celis (Junior FC), Daniel Torres (Independiente Medellin), Andres Roa (Deportivo Cali), Sebastian Perez (Atletico Nacional), Edwin Cardona (Monterrey)
Forwards: Carlos Bacca (AC Milan), Dayro Moreno (Tijuana), Roger Martinez (Racing Club), Marlos Moreno (Atletico Nacional)
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Ethan Horvath (Molde IK)
Defenders: Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
The USMNT will have a tough task defeating Colombia. None of the teams the U.S. played prior to the Copa America have international superstars of the same caliber as Colombia.
Although Jurgen Klinsmann's lineups are quite unpredictable, it seems very likely that he will use this lineup:
When the U.S. is in possession, the team will lineup in a 4-3-3 with Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood playing as the wide forwards. When the USMNT is defending, Zardes and Wood will drop back and act as wide midfielders.
Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin are guaranteed to start at leftback and rightback respectively, as a result of their recent good form. Johnson and Yedlin will look to get into the attack, although probably not as much as they would against weaker teams.
John Brooks and Geoff Cameron are the two best centerbacks on the U.S. roster and this duo would fit Klinsmann's preference of having a left footed player as the left centerback (Brooks) and a right footed player as the right centerback (Cameron).
The only thing that might keep this duo from starting is the fact that they have only played together twice. While both players looked good against Bolivia, other centerback pairings might have better chemistry.
Klinsmann used a center midfield trio against both Ecuador and Bolivia and it wouldn't be surprising to see this utilized again. Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and Alejandro Bedoya are the likely starting central midfielders. Bradley will drop deeper as a #6, a position from which he had great success against Bolivia. Jones and Bedoya will roam farther up the field.
Jones has proven to be an attacking threat with the Colorado Rapids, but Klinsmann may choose to have Jones play deeper and man-mark James. Jones has more experience as a destroyer and is a better man-marker than Michael Bradley. The battle between the U.S. and Colombian midfield will be key to this match.
Although Clint Dempsey has been struggling, expect him to start. He is a veteran and leader who will likely lineup as a #9. Dempsey won't play as a traditional target forward. Look for him to interchange with Zardes and Wood in order to confuse the Colombian defense.
If the USMNT is in need of a late goal, expect Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic to come off of the bench. Conversely, if the team is playing for a draw, or looking to hold a lead then Matt Besler or Kyle Beckerman will likely be subbed in.
This match will certainly be the U.S.' most difficult of the group stage. While the USMNT will look to get at least a point, it's very possible that the team could advance to the knockout stages even if it loses this game. Colombia will be the clear favorite in this match and I expect them to defeat the U.S. 2-1.