Without doubt Group A in the Copa America Centenario is the one with the most parity among all the teams in it. Colombia and Costa Rica reached the quarterfinals at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Paraguay who reached the semifinals of last year’s Copa America and the host the United States will sure give us very intriguing games during the first round:
After a disappointing performance at last year’s Gold Cup, the U.S. is in dire need to show sign of improvement. One of the positive signs for Klinsmann is that he seems to have found the starting back-line that will play in the opener against Colombia with Fabian Johnson on the left, Geoff Cameron and John Brooks in the middle and DeAndre Yedlin finally being utilized as a right back.
Despite the tough opposition the U.S. has home field advantage and also is looking to take advantage that all of their three rivals have had some struggles recently.
The bright side: Brooks and Yedlin are both coming from strong seasons in Hertha Berlin and Sunderland respectively and made the choice easier for Klinsmann in the back. Also in the game against Ecuador the team showed that is capable of defending well, teams that succeed in short tournaments tend to allow few goals to their opposition.
Although they haven’t played much for the team year Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic have proven to be very interesting options for Klinsmann in midfield who can provide a change of pace when needed. Don’t be surprised if Nagbe makes the starting eleven against Colombia.
Another positive for the U.S. is that at least in the friendlies leading up to the tournament Klinsmann has shown more versatility to what formation to use depending of the talent that he has on the field.
Weaknesses: It seems that the team it’s slow to get going early in games, the team in some of its most recent matches it has taken them a bit to get into rhythm. The other concern for the U.S. is that when they play tougher opponents they tend to allow them to have the vast majority of possession.
Who to watch for: Christian Pulisic. The young 17 year old had a few appearances for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and also scored a pair of goals doing so. On top of his great ability the best thing about him is that he feels comfortable on the field and is very smart of what to do with or without the ball.
Although the team delighted everyone due to its impressive scoring capacity during the World Cup scoring 12 goals in 5 games, Colombia showed a completely different face last year where they only manage to score once in four games.
James Rodriguez is by far the most talented player on their roster but didn’t see much action in the final stretch of the season at Real Madrid. Other known Colombian strikers who’ve been out out form such as Radamel Falcao, Teofilo Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez are not going to take part in the tournament.
This team will have quite a few newer faces but still has a lot of quality to get them far.
Weaknesses: The big concern for the team is inexperience. Only five of the 23-man roster have more than 30 caps for the national team.
With the big absences up front youngsters like Roger Martinez and Marlos Moreno will have the opportunity to shine.
Who to watch for: Juan Cuadrado and Carlos Bacca. Despite all the pieces missing in the attack for Colombia Carlos Bacca is the most experience forward on the team, he had a good season for AC Milan scoring 18 goals in Serie A. His counterpart Juan Cuadrado had a big year at Juventus after a quiet and short stint at Chelsea, with Rodriguez out of form Cuadrado will have to become the go-to man for the midfield, just like Bacca will have to do the same upfront.
To an extent Los Ticos are in a similar circumstance as to Colombia, they shocked the world by reaching the quarterfinals at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but had a terrible tournament in last year’s Gold Cup.
The talent is there for Costa Rica and this tournament will be a great opportunity for them to be able to make some noise again. The team coached by Oscar Ramirez is in their comfort zone as the other teams in the group have been the focus and you know what this team is capable of when they fly under the radar if not ask Uruguay, Italy and England.
Can Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell create havoc for their competition once again, we’re about to find out.
Weaknesses: The team is well balanced, possibly the bigger question marks are in what form are Campbell and Ruiz. Campbell didn’t get much action for Arsenal and Bryan Ruiz who did see more minutes at Sporting Portugal didn’t had a very good season.
Who to watch for: Keylor Navas. On Saturday Navas became the first Costa Rica player and just the third CONCACAF player to lift the Champions League Trophy. Navas will be the leader of the team and if he has a strong performance like he did in Brazil then Costa Rica needs to be taken seriously. It also worth pointing out that Navas wasn’t part of last year’s Gold Cup team.
Paraguay had a strangely good Copa America last year reaching the semifinals until it got dismantled by Argentina 6-1 in the semifinals.
There are many gaps in the team, the main center back Da Silva is 36 years old and not as fast as he used to be, the two possible partners in the starting eleven Pablo Aguilar and Bruno Valdez who are now teammates at Club America have not being consistent enough. Same story with another Club America player Miguel Samudio at left back, the second choice left back Blas Riveros had a poor game in the friendly against Mexico on Saturday.
Paraguay also present a good crop of forwards led by Nelson Haedo Valdes and Edgar Benitez. The other young options up front have a lot of potential but have not come through at the national level just yet are: Derlis Gonzalez from Dynamo Kiev, Dario Lezcano the leading scorer for Paraguay in the World Cup Qualifiers, Jorge Benitez from Cruz Azul, Antonio Sanabria of Sporting Gijon and Juan Iturbe from Bournemouth, but those five have only combined for 8 goals so far.
Weaknesses: As mentioned before their defense is what has the most question marks. The team is in a transitional period where the greats that took Paraguay to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup are slowly moving on
Who to watch for: Antonio Sanabria. The 20-year old striker who belong to AS Roma played this past season for recently promoted Sporting Gijon on loan wher he scored 11 goals in 21 appearances a very good number for a young striker playing for a team at the bottom of La Liga. His performances at the club level could be a sign that he is in the midst of becoming a special player.
Group A Predictions:
1) Colombia 7 Points, 2) United States 5 points, 3) Costa Rica 3 points, 4) Paraguay 2 points.