James Rodriguez, Colombia Beats USA Men's Soccer 4-2 in 2018 Friendly

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2018

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 11:  James Rodr’guez #10 of Colombia celebrates a goal during an International Friendly against the Unites States at Raymond James Stadium on October 11, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Colombia earned a 4-2 friendly win over the United States men's national team on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Bayern Munich midfielder James Rodriguez got Colombia on the board with a goal in the 36th minute, and the South Americans rarely looked back from there en route to a comprehensive victory.

AS Monaco striker Radamel Falcao scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 74th minute.


Poor Defending Puts Damper on Encouraging Performance

Despite this only being a friendly, Colombia used several senior players responsible for a round-of-16 run at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The United States was clearly an underdog, especially since it couldn't count on much of a home-field advantage.

Interim coach Dave Sarachan used a number of young players who will be pivotal for the USMNT's future, and the pair of Kellyn Acosta and Bobby Wood provided some excitement with their goals early in the second half.

The night wasn't a complete loss for the U.S., but the team's woeful defending couldn't be ignored.

In particular, Colombia moved down the right side of the pitch and exploited U.S. left back Antonee Robinson.

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James' opener also highlighted how the United States' lack of communication and pressure made life easy for Colombia's attackers. The 27-year-old had far too much time to measure up his left-footed curler into the far post.

Falcao's goal was also the result of a bad mistake by Robinson. He allowed James' lofted ball to fall to Carlos Bacca. From there, Colombia was deadly on the counterattack.

Sarachan mixed experience with youth in terms of his back line, which makes the defense's collective performance more worrying. John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin had 34 and 54 national-team caps, respectively, entering Thursday.


Zack Steffen Further Cements His Place as No. 1 Goalkeeper

Zack Steffen is the biggest reason the United States was only down a goal at halftime. The Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper stepped up on numerous occasions to deny Colombia a potential goal.

Thursday's friendly was the 23-year-old's sixth appearance for the national team. Crew SC's official Twitter account noted that ties the record for national-team caps for a goalkeeper in his first season.

For the most part, the U.S. has been blessed at goalkeeper. Between Kasey Keller, Brad Guzan and Tim Howard, the position has been among the USMNT's most stable for nearly two decades. Steffen is seemingly the next in line.

One question surrounding Steffen is when he makes the jump to Europe. Columbus declined a transfer offer in July from Bristol City in the EFL Championship. MLSSoccer.com's Charles Boehm noted shortly thereafter his "limited number of USMNT caps to date would preclude him from automatically receiving a work permit" to play in England.

The more Steffen plays for the United States, the easier it becomes for him to go abroad. Leaving MLS to test himself at a higher level will help him lock down the first-choice goalkeeper job.


Stage Appears Set for Gregg Berhalter

This friendly carried some emotional significance for American fans since Wednesday represented the one-year anniversary of the United States failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

Bruce Arena resigned as coach three days after the 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago, and U.S. Soccer named Sarachan as his interim replacement on Oct. 24, 2017. Nearly a year later, his status remains unchanged.

That may not be the case much longer. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported on FS1 before the match that Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter is leading the race to become the permanent replacement for Arena:

For some, hiring the 45-year-old would be an underwhelming conclusion to a lengthy coaching search.

Berhalter has enjoyed a successful run with Columbus, though. The team reached the playoffs in three of the past four seasons—including an MLS Cup run in 2015—and is in position to qualify for the postseason again in 2018.

Just as important, Berhalter would bring a defined style of play to the national team. Under his watch, Crew SC have emphasized possession and attacking soccer, and that would presumably be the case for the USMNT.

While that may not be the best approach against the best teams in the world at the World Cup, it would be appropriate for CONCACAF qualifying, when opponents are often happy to cede possession to the U.S.

At the very least, hiring a coach is a step in the right direction as the United States positions itself for 2022 World Cup qualification.


What's Next?

The USMNT will return to action Tuesday for a friendly with Peru in East Hartford, Connecticut. Colombia will remain in the U.S. for its next match, a friendly with Costa Rica in Harrison, New Jersey, on Tuesday.