Alejandro Bedoya remembers when a merely decent Colombia squad won the 2001 Copa América as host, and believes the U.S. can do the same this year. Before dreaming of a title, though, the team faces Saturday’s pivotal game against Paraguay.
PHILADELPHIA — U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya has a memory on his mind ahead of the U.S.’s decisive Group A game against Paraguay here on Saturday in the Copa América Centenario (7 p.m. ET, FS1, Univision). As a 14-year-old back in 2001, the Colombian-American Bedoya watched nearly every minute of the Copa América that Colombia hosted—and surprisingly won.
There’s no reason in Bedoya’s mind that his U.S. team can’t do the same thing on home soil and win this Copa América. “Going into this tournament, my aspirations would be: How amazing would it be—for us, for me as a player, for the whole country—if the U.S. won it too?” he said. “If we could pull off something like Colombia did [in 2001]?”
Bedoya knows a lot of work still needs to be done, of course, which includes advancing out of the group. If the U.S. beats Paraguay it will book a spot in the quarterfinals. A U.S. tie would also see the Americans advance as long as Costa Rica doesn’t beat Colombia by six goals. A U.S. loss would mean elimination from the tournament.
But Bedoya’s point is a fair one. If a decent-but-not-great Colombia could win the tournament in 2001 at home, there’s no reason the U.S. couldn’t do the same.
The U.S. team has a few things going for it, Bedoya said, after Wednesday’s 4–0 blowout of Costa Rica. One is Jurgen Klinsmann’s consistent lineup choices. The U.S. coach has used the same starting lineup in the first two games of the Copa, the first time Klinsmann has done that since the Ghana game in World Cup 2014. If Klinsmann goes with the same 11 starters on Saturday, it will be the first time he has ever done it for three straight games as the U.S. coach.
“For the guys in the 11 right now, it always helps out with familiarity and playing a consistent lineup,” said Bedoya. “You work on it in training as well, the same 11, so with training and then playing in games you get more accustomed to the way guys play in these positions.”
“It’s all about building certain partnerships on the field,” he continued. “On the left side you have Jermaine [Jones] working together with Fabian [Johnson]. Maybe in the first game against Colombia he was more deep helping out Fabian because we know [Juan] Cuadrado is dangerous, but against Costa Rica [Jones] got more loose and was able to be Jermaine, the guy who runs all over the place.
“On my side, that familiarity with DeAndre [Yedlin] and Gyasi [Zardes], I’m always trying to talk with them and know their movements. It makes it so much easier that with the same guys on the field, you already know where that guy should be.”
Whether the U.S. goes out in a 4–3–3 or a 4–4–2 remains to be seen—the team played in both formations against Costa Rica—but it seems likely that the same lineup will start again on Saturday. Given the concerns from former U.S. players in March about a lack of a sizable core group of players, Klinsmann’s consistent lineup choices should help to increase the size of that core group.
For his part, Bedoya has seen Paraguay play twice in this tournament, and he knows that it’s a team that can’t be taken lightly.
“They were able to put some pressure on Colombia [in a 2–1 loss],” he said. “They’re a good team. We know they’re not scared of anybody. They have some good players. Some of their best players aren’t available because they’re injured, but they’re still a dangerous team. We have to approach it like a must-win game and get after it from the beginning.”
If the U.S. can do that and advance, the Americans will likely be looking at a quarterfinal in New Jersey against five-time World Cup champion Brazil.