Copa America preview: USMNT v Paraguay

It all comes down to this.

After a hugely disappointing loss to Colombia, followed by an equally impressive win over Costa Rica, the US stands poised to move out of Group A and into the knockout stages of the Copa America Centenario with a win or a draw (Costa Rica would need to beat Colombia by a football [American football, that is] score to make up the goal difference on the US). But let’s be honest: a win keeps the momentum going, while a draw stops it cold. Not as cold as a loss, but you get the idea.

Formation musical chairs

So, for all our talk about the return of the 4-3-3, it lasted about 30 minutes on Tuesday before the team switched into a 4-4-2. It certainly helped get more out of Bobby Wood, who seems wasted on the wing, but is a big asset from a central position. His goal, the US’s third, happened when Clint Dempsey, never really a true No. 9, dropped into the No. 10 position to pick up the ball, then fed Wood at the edge of the defense. His turn and finish were top class.

And getting players in front of Dempsey is key. His lead of the US attack was predicated on drawing defenders to him while carrying the ball, then finding teammates in better positions. It happened for both Wood’s goal and Jermaine Jones’s before that.

In truth, though, the formation wasn’t significantly different. Wood got higher, but Michael Bradley stayed at the bottom of the midfield cleaning up, and Jones (and Alejandro Bedoya, to a lesser extent) did yeoman’s work pushing out to the wing to help on defense, without ever really playing as a winger. This was the diamond 4-4-2 that we are all familiar with by now.

Improved performances

The real difference between the two games so far for the US hasn’t been the formation, or tactics, though both were better versus Costa Rica. The true difference has been that the players performed better. Bradley and Jones, especially, played closer to their platonic ideals against Costa Rica, while against Colombia, both looked like pale imitations of themselves.

If this team is to be successful, the players have to play well. That’s so obvious as to be almost insulting, but it’s true. If Bradley isn’t being a metronome, completing a high percentage of passes, and if Jones is hacking guys down rather than making good tackles that get ball first, the team isn’t going to function, period. But if they do perform, the team will do well.

Nagbe and Pulisic!

Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic didn’t play versus Costa Rica, and weren’t needed to. That’s the bind they’re in. On the one hand, fans want to see them, but if they get on the field, it’s probably because the team is in trouble. That gives them an opportunity to be saviors, but also means they’ve got a higher mountain to climb.


In the first game, Paraguay managed a dour draw with Costa Rica, but in the second game they gave up two first-half goals to Colombia before scoring in the 71st minute to make Colombia sweat. They are a fine side, though nothing more than that, really, but cannot be discounted. For instance, at the end of March, Paraguay managed a 2–2 draw with Brazil in World Cup Qualifying. You know, the team that just hung seven on Haiti.


Again, I expect the team to be basically unchanged. There should be no changes in defense, with maybe one or two attackers switched out. Perhaps Graham Zusi starts for Gyasi Zardes or Alejandro Bedoya, but barring injury or serious fatigue, I think Klinsmann sticks with what he’s got. Taking a cue from Klinsmann, I’m also predicting an unchanged scoreline for the third game running, but this time I see a US win: USA 2–1 Paraguay.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Key is likely to be the start. I both games so far, an early goal pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game. If the US gives up an early goal, they are likely in trouble. Otherwise, I think the can do it and move on.

  2. Big advantage to the US: Paraguay has went from Florida to California and now to Philadelphia.

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