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USA set-piece miscues at heart of Copa-opening loss to Colombia

An early corner kick doomed the U.S., while captain Michael Bradley struggled against Colombia.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The U.S. opened the Copa América Centenario with a mood-killing 2-0 loss to Colombia here at Levi’s Stadium on Friday. An eighth-minute strike by Cristián Zapata off a corner kick and a penalty by James Rodríguez bookended a first half that saw the U.S. out-executed in key moments that decided the game.

The U.S. will now face significant pressure in its next game against Costa Rica on Tuesday in Chicago if it wants to have any chance of advancing as one of the top two teams in the group.

Here are my three thoughts on the game:

Set pieces told the story 

We heard all week that the one area the U.S. would have a distinct advantage over Colombia in would be on set pieces (both defensively and offensively). Colombia had been conceding goals on set pieces lately, while scoring off them has been a U.S. specialty for years. So what happened? The U.S. conceded an early goal on a corner kick when Zapata ran Geoff Cameron off a pick and finished easily past Brad Guzan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. created dangerous free kick opportunities all night but couldn’t do anything with them, whether the free-kick takers were Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley or Fabian Johnson. Dempsey did nearly get the U.S. on the board with a second-half free kick, but Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina came up with the athletic save.

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It’s frustrating to lose, but it’s even more galling when the game is decided in the area that’s supposed to be your strong suit.

Bradley played a big role in conceding Colombia’s second goal 

The U.S. needed a standout performance from its captain on Friday, but while Bradley’s effort was there, his precision was missing throughout. It was Bradley’s giveaway in his own half that gave Colombia a golden opportunity late in the first half, and after Bradley’s desperate foul was waved off by the referee (correctly) playing advantage, Yedlin was whistled for a handball in the box.

The call was hard to disagree with—Yedlin’s hand was in an unnatural position—but the penalty goal that resulted only started after Bradley had given Colombia the opportunity. The U.S. needs more from him than this.

Playing Wood, Dempsey and Zardes as a front three takes away from what each one of them does best

What is success for the USA in Copa America Centenario?

Dempsey just doesn’t work as a lone center forward; he needs to be a withdrawn forward in a 4-4-2 if you’re going to play him up top. Wood simply loses his mojo when he’s forced out wide. And Zardes is another player who is far more effective when he’s in a central role, not when he’s on the flank. Why Klinsmann tries to put square pegs in round holes can be counfounding, but you have to think he’ll consider making some changes to the starting lineup for the Costa Rica game.

It’s a game that looms even more important now after this dispiriting loss.