Colombia makes U.S. defense look slow in heavy friendly defeat
TAMPA, Fla. -- Colombia held off a feisty U.S. side in prevailing 4-2 in an international friendly Thursday. James Rodriguez opened the scoring in the 36th minute, but the U.S. roared back early in the second half thanks to goals from Kellyn Acosta and Bobby Wood. Colombia wouldn't be denied, however, as Carlos Bacca, Radamel Falcao and Miguel Borja responded with goals to give Los Cafeteros the victory.
Here are three thoughts from the match.
1. U.S. fights back but can't hold lead
Even by the youthful standards employed by caretaker manager Dave Sarachan, this U.S. squad was a bit short-handed. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams were all missing through injury, and while Sarachan insisted it was a case of "next man up," on this night their collective aggression on both sides of the ball was missed.
Michael Bradley -- making his first start in over a year -- started the match alongside Acosta in the center of midfield, and while he broke up a few plays, he could do little to stem the onslaught from Los Cafeteros.
Colombia spent much of the first half attacking the left side of the U.S. defense, to great effect. While Antonee Robinson showed a shocking lack of awareness at times, he got little in the way of help from Kenny Saief or John Brooks. The weakness was apparent just three minutes in, when Santiago Arias escaped the attention of both Robinson and Brooks only to see his pinpoint delivery volleyed wide by Falcao.
It was the combination, along with Rodriguez, that would torment the U.S. for the rest of the half, and the visitors duly broke through in the 36th minute. Arias played the ball into Rodriguez on the left side, who easily evaded Saief, and Brooks failing to step quickly allowed the Bayern Munich midfielder to curl a gorgeous shot into the top corner of Zack Steffen's goal.
Steffen was about the only U.S. player who could hold his head high in the opening 45 minutes as he delivered two sharp saves thereafter, though Matt Miazga was on hand both times to help clear the rebound.
In attack, Julian Green had some decent moments, including one ninth-minute effort that flew narrowly wide. But that was about all the U.S. could muster in the opening frame.
The match became all kinds of crazy in the second half. The U.S. scored twice in a three-minute spell. First, Robinson redeemed himself somewhat by delivering a cross that took a deflection from Davinson Sanchez before being volleyed home by Acosta. Then Wood latched on to Tim Weah's through-ball to put the U.S. ahead.
Sadly, it didn't take long for Colombia to answer. Arias shook evaded Robinson again, and his square pass was turned home by Bacca in the 56th minute. Goals from Falcao and Borja revealed the U.S vulnerability on the counter, giving the visitors a deserved victory.
2. U.S. defensive frailties exposed
Progression at the international level is rarely a straight line, but this was a match that few U.S. players -- especially those on the defensive end -- will be writing home about. You can count Saief and Robinson among the disappointments. Yes, the Anderlecht midfielder had a few decent forays in attack, but there is a minimum level of defensive acumen needed at this stage, and based on this performance, it doesn't look like Saief has it.
Robinson endured an up-and-down spell during the previous international window, playing well against Mexico after suffering against Brazil. This performance was easily the worst of his international career. Arias gave him a torrid time all night, and his spacing next to Brooks left plenty to be desired. Robinson's inability to deal with Rodriguez's long, hopeful ball in the run-up to Falcao's goal capped off a brutal evening.
Saief and Robinson were not alone, however. The central tandem of Brooks and Miazga was left scrambling far too often and seemed slow to step to Colombia's attack. The center of midfield didn't do much to stem the tide, either.
Fortunately, the U.S. has another game in five days time against Peru to bounce back. Thursday night's performance should provide plenty of motivation.
3. Bradley's return spoiled in defeat
Much of the run-up to the match focused on Bradley's return to the squad for the first time in just over a year. He remains Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of many U.S. fans, who hold him mostly responsible for the team's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Given the absences of McKennie and Adams, it wasn't a surprise to see Bradley in the starting lineup, but his performance was mixed, more down than up. The Toronto FC midfielder took care of the ball, connecting with over 90 percent of his passes, but there were several moments when the 31-year-old seemed to show his age defensively, chasing after the more mobile Colombia attackers.
The game became more open as the match went on, which also didn't suit him. The sight of him failing to account for Falcao in the run-up to Colombia's third makes for a poor impression.
As for Bradley's role going forward, he seems best suited to be squad player/mentor on this team. But in terms of doling out meaningful playing time, Sarachan should consider looking elsewhere.