The USA has no chance of advancing to the second round of the Copa America when it meets Colombia on Thursday in Barquisimeto, Venezuela (TeleFutura, GolTV-English, 6:30 pm ET). Yet a case can be argued that sending this pool of U.S. players, many of whom had just a handful of caps if they had any at all, has already attained something. This group is not only a feeder group to the national team, it is also the foundation of the next Olympic team. Would Drew Moor otherwise be even a candidate at right back? Hasn't this tournament sharpened the wits and talents of Ricardo Clark? Did his dismal appearance as a sub against Argentina consign Eddie Gaven to the nether regions of the player pool? What does the promising yet maddening showing of Justin Mapp mean in the short run as well as long-term?
"I think the Argentina game was a wake up call," said Clark after netting his first U.S. goal against Paraguay and nearly scoring again on a rising blast that was saved. "Tonight we came out with more intensity. We created a lot more chances.
"I think we put in a good effort, which is a positive, but at the end of the day soccer is a results-oriented business and we didn't get one tonight. We have to focus on staying mentally sharp for 90 minutes. All we can do now is get better and try to get a win against Colombia."
The USA fell 4-1 to Argentina and 3-1 to Paraguay. Colombia lost 5-0 to Paraguay and 4-2 to Argentina. Both Colombia and the USA will be going home regardless of the result. Neither wants to leave winless.
By surrendering late goals in both games the U.S. is deeper in doubt, psychologically as well as physically. Many players haven't been fit enough. They ran out of gas against Argentina and were lurching on fumes in the final minutes as they tried to snatch a point from Paraguay.
If nothing else, the Copa America has proved that Benny Feilhaber is the real deal, and for him to play a quarterfinal, at least, in addition to the group finale would be invaluable seasoning, with his club future in a state of flux. Colombia will be out to stop him, as Paraguay tried to do, with whatever means possible.
As Michael Bradley and Bornstein did during the Gold Cup, Feilhaber has risen to the occasion. They are not necessarily starters, but are regulars on the 18-man roster.
Jay DeMerit has confirmed he is worthy of regular call-ups as a rugged yet savvy defender not at all fazed by switching from Premier League doormat to the international stage. The difference between his solid, competent defending and the aimless confusion of Oguchi Onyewu against lesser competition in the Gold Cup couldn't be more glaring.
The tournament has also confirmed MLS players need this kind of competition, for in league play there is not the raw reality of full concentration every second. All it took to ruin a solid performance was a bad back pass from Jonathan Bornstein, a prime candidate for burnout, and a momentary doze-off by Jimmy Conrad.
The missed chances by Moor, Mapp, Sacha Kljestan, etc., are deplorable, but mental collapse in the defensive third is unforgivable.
Ben Olsen's zeal and focus hasn't been matched by most of his MLS colleagues, and the presence of a Landon Donovan or Pablo Mastroeni surely would have brightened the bottom line. This group isn't even the best of MLS, much less the 'A' team, yet by sheer force of will and his experience Olsen has stood out.
The value of playing South American teams in South America in real competition is the process, not the end result. Lamenting losses misses the point. They hurt but the pain isn't forever.