USA among the four best teams
One of the boldest opinions a sports columnist can make is to predict the final standings of a highly competitive tournament such as Copa América 2016. I am fully convinced that the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) will be in the semifinals of this tournament and will therefore be one of the top four teams.
To make such a controversial prediction, I take into account many advantages that the USMNT will have: Discipline on the playing field, a tactical strategy to play as a team, the current level of the players and a legion of devoted fans that will support them whole-heartedly with a passion never seen before at an American soccer stadium.
Before talking about the USMNT’s virtues, I want to acknowledge that there are other top-level teams among the 16 participants in Copa América: Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile… all of them have very well known players that make them top contenders even in World Cup tournaments.
The American players selected by Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann are currently playing in the leagues of two world regions: Europe (11 players) and North America (12 players). This immediately gives them the necessary discipline and mental attitude to triumph in any sport. Furthermore, the team is now convinced that they have developed greatly since their participation in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In that occasion they learned the painful lesson that qualifying in the so called “group of death” is not enough to have an honorable participation. Paradoxically, in this Copa América, the U.S. is once again seeded in the “group of death” where it will go against Colombia (fourth in FIFA’s world standings this month), Costa Rica and Paraguay.
Another thing Uncle Sam’s players have going for them is that they are enjoying a very high level of competition. The players that participate in the European leagues have just finished their tournaments. On the other hand, the ones playing in Major League Soccer are in optimal physical condition since their season is still ongoing. Also, the only one who participates in the Mexican League, Michael Orozco, just ended his playing time there and therefore immediately joined the national team.
American fans will play a pivotal role in their country’s performance and have demonstrated this with the massive demand for tickets to attend their team’s first three games. This fervor and conviction that U.S. will dispute the top spots have resulted in massive requests for group tickets of 20 or more people. This clearly demonstrates that the support from the stands will be a big incentive for the American players to show a powerful winning determination that will not disappoint their fans.
A high level competition team
There are many Latin American fans who, I believe, wrongly express their disdain for the U.S. team’s soccer level and don’t give it any favoritism to finish in top positions in world competitions. To try to undermine such wrong opinions I am going to highlight some interesting facts about some of the American players that have been chosen to represent their country at Copa América 2016.
Christian Pulisic, the 17-year-old star born in Pennsylvania, and the youngest of the team, plays for Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga and became the fourth youngest player to score a goal in such a competitive league. In addition, he was a starter in three of the matches that his team played in the last Europa League tournament.
Bobby Wood has already been in the Bundesliga for two years and was just transferred to Hamburg SV after scoring 17 goals for his former team, Hertha Berlin. Another player that stands out is Fabian Johnson of Borussia Monchengladbach who scored six goals, two of them in the Champions League. His club finished fourth and qualified for next year’s Champions League.
In the English Premier League, Geoff Cameron played 30 matches for Stoke City and DeAndre Yedlin was fundamental in helping his team, Sunderland, stay safe from relegation to the second division after spending 237 days in the lower part of the standings. In the Norwegian top flight league, Ethan Horvath, a young goalkeeper with 20 years of age, established himself as one of the best in his position and also had a stellar performance when his team finished first in Europa League group A, well above highly regarded teams like Celtic and Ajax. Another player of importance in Europe was Perry Kitchen who was a starter for the 10 matches that his club, Heart of Midlothian (Scotland), played after his transfer there this past winter.
Again, now I give my prediction: The USMNT will be among the best four of Copa América 2016. Its players have soccer talent, are physically and mentally committed to excel and also its fans are going to give them full support outside the stadium and even more so from the stands while watching their home team play.