Bobby Wood emerges as a Copa America positive for the U.S.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As the U.S. players navigated their way through the postmatch mixed zone Saturday night, the mood was upbeat. Granted, the team had been beaten 1-0 by Colombia for the second time this tournament, forcing the Americans to settle for a fourth-place finish in the Copa America Centenario. But the talk among them was almost universally positive.
"You can see that we can battle with almost everybody," said midfielder Jermaine Jones.
"I think there's a lot of positive that you can take out of it," added Geoff Cameron. "Guys got a lot of experience. We grew as a group from the amount of friendlies that we played before, to building up to the tournament, and showing what we did."
The lone exception was forward Bobby Wood, who had a look on his face as if he wanted to play the just-concluded game all over again.
Perhaps he was still thinking of his shot in the 62nd minute that rattled off the Colombian post and bounced out. Wood had a couple of other half chances that either missed the target or were thwarted by the Colombian defense. But when asked about the team's overall performance, it was clear he wasn't satisfied.
"Before coming into the tournament, I think making it to the semis, we would have been really proud," said Wood. "But after the way we played leading up to the semis, I think a lot of us felt like there was more in there to gain."
All three players are right: The U.S. did have some good moments and Jurgen Klinsmann's pre-tournament goal of reaching the semis was achieved. Along the way, some personnel questions were answered in the affirmative thanks to some strong individual performances.
Wood is included in that group. He tallied just once, scoring the third goal in the 4-0 group-stage wipeout of Costa Rica. But he showed other attributes, including a willingness to do the dirty work and aggressive running that opened up space for others, most notably Clint Dempsey.
Wood's efforts were especially notable against Ecuador in the quarterfinal, when he consistently bent the opposition's back line out of shape. So it was almost refreshing in a way to see him ticked at the results from the past two games, one of which -- the semifinal vs. Argentina -- he missed because of a suspension.
"It's disappointing that we were missing players against Argentina and then today I think we were just unlucky that we didn't score because I thought we dominated," he said. "It's a learning lesson and we've got to move on and look forward."
To that end, the next test on the international calendar is a pair of World Cup qualifiers in September: An away trip at St. Vincent and the Grenadines followed by a home tilt against Trinidad & Tobago.
Barring injury, Wood is a near certainty to be involved in both matches, thanks to his play immediately before and during the Copa. Think of it this way: The loss of Jozy Altidore to injury hardly came up at all over the past month. That is not to say that Altidore's international career is finished; far from it. But his absence is no longer the tactical backbreaker that it used to be.
Wood has shown he can be an excellent foil for Dempsey, and has proved at the club level that he's capable of playing as a lone striker as well. Once Altidore heals up from his latest hamstring injury, it will be interesting to see them battle it out for playing time, or perhaps even partner up front when the situation allows.
Wood will also need to make the most of his summer move to Bundesliga side Hamburg. The step up from the 2. Bundesliga will no doubt be difficult, and he'll need to adapt quickly. But for now, Wood can look at his Copa America experience with some contentment for a job well done, as well as hunger for the future.
"I'm lucky that Jurgen and my teammates gave me a lot of trust, and helped me develop into this squad as a player," he said. "I'm just trying to pay them back."
So far, Wood is doing just that.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.