It’s no secret physical play against Colombia will be crucial for the United States in its Copa America Centenario opener.
While the Colombians have a reputation for free flowing and attacking soccer, they are equally known for their physical and sometimes brutal play.
Colombia showed just how explosive it could be with 11 goals during a four-game win streak to start World Cup 2014 before falling to Brazil 2-1 in the quarterfinals. But the hosts paid a hefty price after Juan Zaniga jumped recklessly into star Neymar, putting a knee in his back and breaking a vertebra to end his tournament.
Defender Geoff Cameron said the U.S. watched film to supplement its experience from a November 2014 friendly in London. Colombia committed 13 fouls, including several harsh tackles that gave Cameron and his teammates a preview of what awaits at 6:30 p.m. PT Friday night in Santa Clara.
“They’re aggressive, they’re sharp, they’re technical,” Cameron said. “They’re a very, very good team. A lot of good players, but we have to bring our game.”
That means making a strong, physical impression early against Colombia’s world class attack. AC Milan forward Carlos Bacca provides an excellent target up front for Juventus midfielder Juan Cuadrado and World Cup 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez of Real Madrid.
While with Roma in Italy for two seasons, U.S. veteran Michael Bradley faced Bacca several times and saw the 29-year-old’s quickness firsthand. But Bradley emphasized Colombia’s entire lineup provides an impressive mix of skill and athleticism.
“It’s just being ready to compete and understand what each moment of the game will be about,” Bradley said. “We’ll find our moments to be able to play, but (it’s) making sure the commitment from every guy to do whatever it takes is there.”
Nonetheless, so many dangerous and creative players means the U.S. backline needs to maintain its focus for 90 minutes, and Cameron said everyone must stay on the same page. He noted Colombia thrives on give-and-go opportunities with short, quick passes to draw out and get behind opposing defenses.
“They’re skillful,” said Cameron, who started two matches as a central defender in World Cup 2014. “They like to run off the defenders, the back shoulders of them, and it’s just communication between the back four and the defensive midfield.”
His experience should provide a valuable asset, along with the speed and physicality of youngsters DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks. They may have some nerves on such a big stage, but Cameron said that’s to be expected for everyone and it’s important for them to soak up what’s sure be an electric atmosphere at Levi’s Stadium.
“We have to be confident and believe in each other and I think if we can do that, we can match them,” Cameron said. “We match their effort and we go above and beyond, we’ll beat them.”