In any major tournament, the third-place game is the one that no team relishes being a part of. After falling agonizingly short of a place in the final, the last thing players want is to face off in a battle of the defeated for a prize of questionable value. But in this Copa America Centenario, the United States, at least, should have particular reason for wanting to make the most of a last opportunity to take the field before departing the tournament it has played host to over the past three weeks.
Plenty of positive momentum had been built up from three straight wins to meet coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s objective of a place in the semifinals. But once in the final four, the U.S. came up a long way short. If losing to the world’s No. 1 ranked team was hardly a shock, the manner of the defeat left plenty to be desired.
The. U.S. was behind inside three minutes and by the end lost 4-0 without registering a single shot at goal. Immediately questions were asked once more about the direction of the national team and whether Klinsmann had brought the U.S. any closer to competing with the world’s best teams than when the German took the job five years ago.
Nothing that happens against Colombia in Glendale, Arizona, on Saturday night will significantly repair the damage of the humbling at the hands of Argentina. But the U.S. and Klinsmann can at least still leave the tournament offering greater optimism for the future. Certainly Klinsmann is eager for his side to make the most of it.
"It's not hard to get up for," he said in a press conference ahead of the game. "It's the third place in the Copa America. No one thought we would be here so it's exciting."
“This game tomorrow is another opportunity for the guys — before they go in all directions again — to show everyone that we are growing, that we are getting stronger. And we want to have that opportunity in such a big tournament to go eye-to-eye with those nations. It's not going to be a friendly game.”
Klinsmann has stated that he will field a strong lineup, although with veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard coming in for his first appearance of the competition in place of Brad Guzan. John Brooks and Fabian Johnson may also drop out of the defense after picking up knocks. Many U.S. fans will hope, too, that there are places for Darlington Nagbe and 17-year-old Christian Pulisic, who were both restricted to roles off the bench against Argentina.
For whoever starts, the challenge will be to put in a much stronger performance than the one offered in the opening game of the Copa America Centenario three weeks ago. Then Colombia cruised to a 2-0 victory against a U.S. side that made defensive missteps and posed little attacking threat.
After that win and a subsequent victory over Paraguay, Colombia looked a good tip to go all the way in the competition. But José Pékerman’ side never recovered its momentum after a much-changed lineup lost to Costa Rica in the final group game. While it sneaked past Peru on a penalty shootout after 90 drab and goalless minutes, Chile’s explosive start to Wednesday’s semifinal proved decisive in securing a 2-0 win.
Still, Colombia is expected to have striker Carlos Bacca back for Saturday’s contest, after injury reduced him to a late substitute appearance against Chile. And, like Klinsmann, Pékerman is eager to make the most of the third-place contest.
"For us to compete in six matches will be important, so that we can draw conclusions from the tournament," the Argentine said. "Of course every one of us, the Colombian people, all people, wanted to be champions, but we always know where we are located, the problems we have, the previous way, the living situations.”
Prediction: So much of the outcome of a third-place playoff rests upon which of the teams plays with the greater motivation. In this instance, it is fair to assume it will be the United States. Colombia, though, is simply a better team, as it showed just a few weeks ago. And, with the U.S. potentially without key defenders Brooks and Johnson, if Colombia is up for the game it should get the win.
Predicted Score: Colombia 2-1 USA
Kickoff Time: 8 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: FX, Univision