On Friday October 8, the Colombian National Team faces Ecuador at the Red Bull Arena (New Jersey), which is then followed by a match against the United States on Tuesday October 12, at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Both teams will be a good test for Colombia. Ecuador participated in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup, but finished in sixth place in the 2010 South American World Cup Qualifiers – just higher than Colombia due to scoring more goals (23 total points and minus four goal difference for both squads). Ecuador will be without Antonio Valencia from Manchester United, who is out of action due to injury. The rest of the lineup includes many players who star in the domestic Ecuadorian league and a few others who play in Mexico, Brasil and Russia.
The United States National Team, who plays with more heart than probably any other National Team, will be without Landon Donovan. Concerns exist about players such as Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan) and Eddie Johnson (Fulham), both whom have yet to feature for their clubs this season. Newcomers for the USNT include Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04) and Brek Shea (FC Dallas). Needless to say, the United States will be putting out an experimental side and feature players that may not have received much playing time at the club level. On a positive note, expect to see Stuart Holden (Bolton), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Tim Howard (Everton), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach) and Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) in action.
These two friendlies will be a good opportunity for Colombia to take their preparations for the 2011 Copa America to the next level. In early September, Colombia defeated Venezuela 2-0 but lost to Mexico 1-0. In both games, there were moments of sheer brilliance from the Colombians, but throughout both matches, the killer instinct that top nations possess, still appears lacking. While the victory against Venezuela was expected, the talent is there to score four goals on a regular basis. Instead, Colombia played too defensive at times, when they should have focused on possession and attack. Against Mexico, El Tricolor dictated the game and they were able to win after knocking down the door after several attempts.
There are a few questions going into these two matches. First of all, where are Hugo Rodallega (Wigan) and Dayro Moreno (Once Caldas)? While it is good to see Teófilo Gutiérrez (Trabzonspor) and Carlos Quintero (Santos Laguna), Moreno and Rodallega should always be called up unless they are injured, which is not the case here.
At 25 years old, Moreno only has twelve caps with Los Cafeteros, which is not enough for a player of his caliber and role with the National Team since returning in June 2010. Granted he had a rough spell in Europe with Steaua Bucureşti, he should continue to be fully integrated with the National Team. He is one of the few players who is playing aggressive rather than waiting for the game to come to them. As for Rodallega, even though he has little to prove, it is important that as one of the key players to the team, he continues to be in the lineup. The team needs to be built around players like Hugo Rodallega, Dayro Moreno, Gio Moreno (Racing) and Radamel Falcao (FC Porto).
In the midfield, there are several concerns. It seems Manager Hernan Dario Gomez is set on the defensive midfield duo of John Restrepo (Independiente Medellin) and Jhon Viafara (La Equidad). Despite being 33 years old, Restrepo has looked sharp in the defensive midfield role. It appears he will have a role for the Seleccion when the Copa America takes place in July 2011. Viafara, on the other hand, looked very shaky as the other defensive midfielder and did an inadequate job of setting up the offense. Constantly trying to make something happen with long errant passes, he did not look impressive. Abel Aguilar (Hercules) would be a better option, but is absent for unknown reasons. Aguilar has been showing consistent form at the newly promoted La Liga club. He was instrumental in their recent 2-0 victory over FC Barcelona. At 25 years old, Aguilar is at the right age where he is continuing to get better and can add more value to Colombia than Viafara.
Also returning for these matches, are attackers Gustavo Ramos (Hertha Berlin), Juan Cuadrado (Udinese) and Gio Moreno (Racing). Moreno has begun to show promise with his new club in Argentina. Criticized by several for taking too many chances, over time he will continue to play smarter and stronger. Hopefully Cuadrado (defender/midfielder) can bring some more magic to the right wing and help provide strength to what has been a weak midfield over the last several years. Ramos, who is in the second division of Bundesliga, will need to improve on his finishing ability. In September, he did have some good opportunities to score or be involved in a goal, but he appeared to have “happy feet,” something that can only get cured with more playing time. Ramos cannot become too comfortable though, because when players like Freddy Guarin (FC Porto) return to form, he will be ready if Ramos is unable to get the job done.
The youngest player on the squad, Victor Ibarbo (Atletico Nacional), could possibly earn his second and third cap this month. At the club level, he is known for his blistering pace and quality goals for Atletico Nacional. A Colombian Theo Walcott, he also possesses strength and ball control, similar to former Colombian legend Freddy Rincon. Expect to see him come off the bench in a super sub role when his pace will be needed – do not be surprised if he does some damage against the United States.
Defensively, Juan Zuniga (Napoli), Pablo Armero (Udinese), Mario Yepes (AC Milan) and Juan Valencia (Independiente Medellin) are returning. While there is little concern about the fullbacks, the middle of the back line does raise doubts. Yepes has yet to play for AC Milan this season, and at 34 years old, he is not getting any better. The good news is Luis Perea (Atletico Madrid) and Aquivaldo Mosquera (Club America) return to the National Team after a long absence. Even though Perea was not at his best form for the National Team in recent memory, he is the only center back available who competes and performs well at the highest levels in Europe. Mosquera will have to make the best of his return because his form at the club level has declined since his days at Sevilla during 2007-9. While many hope to see Mosquera and Perea as the two center backs, Yepes and Perea will most likely lead the middle of the defense.
In between the posts, David Ospina (Nice) returns along with Faryd Mondragon (1. FC Köln). Ospina has been impressive at stopping the difficult shots, but showed some nervousness when dealing with direct, routine shots and not holding on to the ball (see Mexico’s lone goal from September). With an experienced Mondragon in the locker room and on the training ground, the 1998 World Cup keeper will parlay some knowledge to Ospina, which only help him become better.
Despite the fact Abel Aguilar, Dayro Moreno and Hugo Rodallega are absent, Colombia has several players who are getting plenty of minutes at the club level and showing good form. With players like Quintero, Ibarbo, Gio Moreno and Cuadrado who like to attack and take shots on goal from anywhere on the pitch, these next two games may be a turning point where the fans see a more aggressive Colombian National Team.
Playing not to lose will not be acceptable for many supporters. It is time to start putting some goals on the scoreboard and dominate possession – all this while maintaining patience and composure (watch any Spain or Germany game). Despite the fact both games in the United States, Colombia must show they are capable of winning away from home.
See you in a few days for an overview of Colombia’s performances against Ecuador and the United States.