By Paul Kennedy
The USA has been so disappointing so often during the Jurgen Klinsmann
era that you have to wonder
what to make of the optimism surrounding its chances at the Copa Centenario.
Suddenly, the USA is being labeled as serious Copa contenders. There are reasons to back up that claim. The
USA's home-field advantage will be significant. And many of the tournament's top South American teams won't be at full strength. But at the end of the day, it will still come down to one thing, how
good is the USA?
After Saturday's Bolivia game,
Klinsmann said he was pleased with the result and the effort his players put in was "perfect." What else is he going to say
after a 4-0 win that could have been bigger?
A sweep of three pre-Copa Centenario warmups sounds good, but two of the wins came against Puerto Rico (enough said) and Bolivia (which
couldn't have looked any worse) and the third, against Ecuador, came on a last-minute goal.
Sweeps of pre-tournament friendlies are nothing new. In 2014, the USA beat Azerbaijan, Turkey
and Nigeria ahead of the World Cup in Brazil. It went on to beat Ghana and tie Portugal, which turned out to be enough to get the USA out of a group in which it had been given little chance, but it
was hardly a world-beater in Brazil.
If ever there was a reason not to put too much into friendly results, it was what happened in 2015. The USA stunned the Netherlands and Germany
on the road and then Guatemala before the Gold Cup. What happened next? It bombed at the Gold Cup, finishing fourth. If anything, the Guatemala game in Nashville -- a 4-0 win -- was more indicative of
what would happen next as the USA actually played poorly and was outshot by Guatemala, 13-9.
So which team will we see on Friday against Colombia? The team that showed little for the
first hour against Ecuador or the team that earned a deserved win against one of South America's hottest teams thanks to a second-half formation change and a bunch of substitutions.
Klinsmann's decision to move captain Michael Bradley
back to the No. 6 position and play Jermaine Jones
in a more advanced role was cause for celebration. Klinsmann's rationale for
playing Bradley higher -- he was forced into playing the role of the second forward at the World Cup following Jozy Altidore
's injury -- has been that he wants to take advantage of Bradley's
talents in more attacking positions. That's all fine and good, but the USA has to get Bradley the ball in those positions, and it can't if it can't maintain possession.
deeper allows him to do more organizing and doesn't necessarily take away from his attacking contributions. Example: the long ball to Bobby Wood
that helped set up Gyasi Zardes
goal against Bolivia. Nor does it take him out of set pieces. Example: his quick restart that led to John Brooks
For all we know, Klinsmann will abandon what he's done in
the last game and a half. He's held out the option of reverting back to Kyle Beckerman
as his No. 6, depending on the opponent and its No. 10, and if there ever were a time he'd do it, it would
be against Colombia with James Rodriguez
But much of the the buzz surrounding Klinsmann's boys concerns their youth. At the 2014 World Cup, the youngest player Klinsmann started
was Altidore (for one game) and he was 24. On Friday, Klinsmann will likely start four players 24 or younger, DeAndre Yedlin
, Brooks, Wood and Zardes, and bring 17-year-old Christian
-- the greatest talent to come along since Landon Donovan
-- off the bench.
isn't exactly a youngster -- he'll be 26 in July -- but he
and Pulisic give the USA something it didn't have two years ago after Klinsmann unceremoniously dumped Donovan and Aron Johannsson
was injured -- and that's serious help off the bench. At the
World Cup, Klinsmann's No. 1 option off the bench was Yedlin and a wing and a prayer.
We'll know soon enough how far Klinsmann's youth movement takes the USA at the Copa Centenario. At
least the final four, his stated goal? To the final? A USA-Mexico final -- possible if both teams win their groups -- would be special.
But even if the USA doesn't make it out of its
group, the experience Klinsmann's babes have gotten will be invaluable as they head into the Hexagonal.