It isn’t easy for most players or fans to get excited about third-place games. They are typically meaningless, a pair of teams coming off semifinal losses going for a consolation prize.
But for the U.S. national team, the Copa America Centenario third-place match against Colombia in Glendale, Arizona, at 8 p.m. Saturday night is a chance for redemption after a humbling 4-0 loss to Argentina, a chance to prove that the Americans aren’t as weak as they looked. It is also an opportunity to avenge Colombia’s 2-0 victory when the teams met in the tournament opener a few weeks ago.
Colombia, the third-ranked team in the world, is coming off a weather-interrupted 2-0 loss to Chile in its semifinal.
“This third-place game is huge for us, absolutely no doubt about it,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters on Thursday. “We’re talking about third place in a Copa America, so we take this very, very serious with a lot of pride.
“Obviously, we got a lesson from Argentina in the semifinals, and we give them all the compliments they deserve, but now this is a wonderful moment, a wonderful opportunity for our players to prove a point. … Let’s show [Colombia] now that we are growing, that we are learning. Let’s avoid those mistakes and take the game to them.”
In their tournament opener, Los Cafeteros got their two goals from a corner kick and a penalty kick. Klinsmann believes his team can do better this time around.
After the loss to Colombia, the U.S. team went on to win its next three games against Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador. But top-ranked Argentina, the 2014 World Cup runner-up led by superstar Lionel Messi, proved too much for the Americans.
“Argentina was simply too strong for us,” Klinsmann said. “But it’s time to regroup.”
If the U.S. team were to win, it would be its best Copa America performance. They lost a third-place game in 1995 against Colombia.
The biggest question going into Saturday night’s match is whether Klinsmann will go with his regular, veteran-heavy lineup, or experiment and start young players such as creative playmaker Darlington Nagbe and 17-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic.
Nagbe and Pulisic both came off the bench late against Argentina, but by the time they came in, the damage was mostly done.
Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya — starters who were suspended for the Argentina match — are set to return. Their replacements were Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wondolowski and Graham Zusi, and the offense sputtered.
Wood, Bedoya and Jones all have great work rates, and Wood had been a key player in the three wins, giving defenders fits and giving Clint Dempsey more room to work in the box.
“We are going to field our best team,” Klinsmann said. “We have the chance to finish third in the Copa America, so it’s huge.”
Colombia started the Copa strong with the win over the United States, but it then lost 3-2 to Costa Rica, squeaked by Peru on a penalty-kick shootout and lost 2-0 to Chile.
Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez, the leading scorer in the 2014 World Cup, was hoping to showcase himself as he is looking for a move in Europe, but he has not been as spectacular as expected.