6616_isi_nagbedarlington_copalocjt060316148 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Copa America Centenario

4 Keys and 2 Predictions Ahead of Costa Rica Game

The U.S. men's national team is at the bottom of Group A after one match, but there is plenty of reason for hope as the Yanks prepare to face Costa Rica Tuesday night in Chicago.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 06, 2016
2:00 PM

YOU KNOW IT. JURGEN KLINSMANN KNOWS IT. Everyody knows it. Tuesday's came against Costa Rica (8pm ET; FS1, UniMas, UDN) is a must-win. It also could turn out to be Klinsmann’s most important game of this cycle before the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The squad disappointed in its opening game against Colombia, but there is room for optimism. First, a loss against third-ranked Colombia was always likely even if the Yanks managed to play well. In that respect, the team is where it should be despite the poor performance.

The second bit of good news is that Paraguay and Costa Rica drew in their opener and neither team looked particularly good. As a result, both only sit one point ahead of the U.S. with each having to face a Colombian team with a good chance of running the table in the group. (Right now, a Colombian sweep would be ideal for the Americans.)

That's the good news. The bad news is that the U.S. must find a way to play better than it did against Colombia. The stakes are high and history is not on its side since teams rarely advance to the knockout rounds of tournaments after losing the opening group stage game. The Americans did move forward in the 2009 Confederations Cup following an opening loss but that took a remarkable amount of luck on a memorable final day of group stage action.

Costa Rica is a good team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup while playing in a difficult group. Still, the Ticos have struggled playing as a road team against the United States in meaningful games. Tomorrow night the U.S. will benefit from having oan extra day rest and Costa Rica will be without starting central defender Kendall Waston who is suspended after picking up a red card against Paraguay.

Here's what the Americans need to do to secure a victory.

1. Bradley and Jones Must produce

Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones are both talented players. Together, however, they are almost always less than the sum of their parts. Occasionally one will perform well while the other does not. When this happens, the U.S. can still manage to scrape out wins. On the very rare occasions both are playing well together, the Yanks can hold their own against some of the top teams in the world.

But when they both have bad games? Not good. This was the case against Colombia and the whole team looked lost in the attack. The Colombia match could have been 500 minutes long and it's tough to envision the U.S. team mustering a decent scoring chance from the run of play with Bradley and Jones playing as they did.

It's possible that either Jones or Bradley could be benched but based on team history t seems very unlikely. Bradley is the team’s captain and Jones has been very important to Klinsmann since his first game at the helm.

Bradley and Jones always seem to play poorly together because they both like to play with a great deal of freedom, and as a result the shape of the midfield often collapses. Against Costa Rica, there will need to be a better understanding between the two.

2. Zardes, Wood, and Dempsey

Against Colombia, the U.S. started the game in a 4-3-3 with Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood on the wings with Clint Dempsey in the middle. All three were lost. Too often Dempsey had to drop into the midfield to receive the ball.

Wood was stranded out wide and Zardes had some nice moments but nothing that troubled Colombia too much.

A shift to a 4-4-2 is possible and indeed Klinsmann switched to that formation for the final 15-20 minutes against Colombia,—although it was too little, too late. Dempsey and Wood would have the most to gain in such a switch as both would play closer to the goal and provide support for each other. Zardes could start in a 4-4-2 as well but in doing so, it would likely force Dempsey or Wood to the bench. 

3. Does either Nagbe or Pulisic start?

In the recent friendlies against Ecuador and Bolivia, Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic provided a big impact on the game off the bench. Against Colombia they were the first two off the bench but the game was lost by that point.

If Klinsmann makes chances to his starting lineup against Costa Rica, Nagbe and Pulisic should receive strong consideration. Nagbe is best centrally although all bets are off in terms of how Klinsmann uses him. He could play Nagbe out on the wing or in another role.

For Nagbe to start in a 4-3-3, he would have to replace either Bedoya, Jones, or Bradley. In a 4-4-2, Klinsmann could start Nagbe along with the other three although he would likely be forced out wide. It is a tough situation where Klinsmann would have to part ways with one of his long-established favorites.

Pulisic has been terrific off the bench for both the U.S. and at Borussia Dortmund. The game against Costa Rica is likely going to be physical and intense so it is easy to see Pulisic continuing to come off the bench.

Klinsmann said that the teams that starts the Copa America is not necessarily the one that finishes it. After a loss and only three days of rest, some changes are likely but it is hard to see anything drastic.

4. Set pieces must improve

Aside from Dempsey’s header of a corner in the 60th that was cleared off the line and his 64th-minute free kick that forced an outstanding save, the U.S. was not dangerous. In the first half, Colombia's only defensive mistakes in the game came from unnecessary fouls which went unpunished by U.S. set pieces.

Defensively, Geoff Cameron lost his marker on an early corner and the entire tone of the game was changed. The U.S. team cannot afford such errors in major tournaments.

It's easy to see the Costa Rica game getting chippy and more fouls being called. This is the norm in a CONCACAF game between rivals. Both teams will get their chances on set pieces. If the U.S. can establish an edge in that area, it has a great chance of winning and setting the tone of the game.

My Predictions

U.S. Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Guzan; Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, Johnson; Nagbe, Bradley, Jones; Wood, Dempsey, Zardes

Final Score: United States 2-1 Costa Rica

Brian Sciaretta is an ASN 100 panelist and a contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter

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