TAMPA, Fla. — There were flashes of a bright future, but for now, the United States men’s national team is still finding its way.
It showed Thursday night in Raymond James Stadium. The U.S. fell 4-2 to Colombia in front of an announced crowd of 38,631. It was a record crowd for a men’s national team game in Tampa, and it was dominated by Colombian fans.
The bright spots were there. The United States battled back early in the second half after falling behind and spending most of the first half on its back foot in the face of a potent Colombian attack.
The mistakes were also there — particularly in transition. And Colombia punished the young Americans for them.
“The fixtures that we’ve put together for this fall are excellent fixtures,” USMNT interim coach Dave Sarachan said. “Tonight was a great example of when you play a team like Colombia as long as they have, and the experience that they have and the technical speed and quality that they have – similar to the other games we’ve played recently, most namely, Brazil – they’ll punish you on mistakes.”
Colombia’s James Rodriguez showed why he’s a world-class player with a golazo to open the scoring in the 36th minute. He got inside the right side of the penalty area and sent a left-footed curler into the upper left corner to give Colombia a 1-0 advantage.
Colombia turned up the pressure and the U.S. was on its heels the remainder of the half. Rodriguez nearly got a brace five minutes later after he got by left back Antonee Robinson and got off a shot. The shot beat goalkeeper Zack Steffen, but centerback Matt Miazga came through with a goal-line clearance and Robinson recovered in time to avoid giving up another score.
The U.S. created some chances in the first half, but it never threatened from inside the penalty area. The Americans’ best first-half chance came when Tampa native Julian Green found some space just outside the penalty area and fired a shot that barely went wide.
Colombia’s Santiago Arias fired a shot off the post to end the first half.
The match got wild in the early part of the second half.
The United States equalized in the 50th minute after Kellyn Acosta one-timed a cross from Robinson into the back of the net. Acosta came in unmarked and provided the finish from just outside the six-yard box.
Three minutes later, the U.S. got its first lead of the match, thanks to a counterattack executed to perfection. Green stole the ball from Colombia midfielder Mateus Uribe near the midfield line and sent a pass to Tim Weah, who played a gorgeous ball to veteran forward Bobby Wood.
Wood finished the sequence and the United States took a 2-1 lead in the 53rd minute.
“Every game we’re in the aspect of kind of fine-tuning some things,” Acosta said. “A new group of guys, new faces, we’re kind of getting acclimated to each other. Every game we try to go out there and get a result. Obviously, tonight, it didn’t really fall in our favor, but nonetheless, there were some positives and some things we can fine-tune. It’s all about kind of getting a team together and kind of just rebuilding and regrouping and progressing.
“There’s definitely some positives, but we can keep working.”
The lead didn’t last long. Colombia found its footing again in the 56th minute and Carlos Bacca scored a goal off a cross from Arias, leveling the match at two goals apiece.
Things quieted down somewhat after the flurry of goals, but Colombia came alive with two goals after the 70th minute. First, captain Falcao Garcia put Colombia back on top with a goal to cap a counterattack. That put the score at 3-2.
Colombia put the exclamation point on the match with a scissor-kick goal from forward Miguel Angel Borja that was just out of reach for Steffen in the 79th minute. Rodriguez provided the assist, then came off shortly after to a standing ovation.
“Obviously disappointing because we were up 2-1 and we should have sealed out the victory,” Miazga said.
Despite some criticism about his age during a rebuilding period for the U.S. national team, 31-year-old midfielder Michael Bradley started against Colombia and wore the captain’s armband. Thursday’s match marked his 141st appearance for the U.S men’s national team.
“Games like this are an important part of the process,” Bradley said. “Playing on nights like this against good teams in environments where, in reality, we’re not the home team, that part’s important.”
The match was Bradley’s first appearance for the Americans since the team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. He will be too old to participate in the next World Cup cycle, triggering questions about the value of including Bradley in the lineup during matches against elite teams that could instead provide experience for up-and-coming players.
“You play against a team like Colombia, who have, obviously, very good players,” he said. “If your reading of certain situations, if the way you deal with certain advantages that they have isn’t good enough, then they can punish you. In moments tonight, they were sharper than we were, but like I said, that’s what nights like tonight are for.
“I thought the response at the beginning of the second half to put the game back on our terms was very good. In all ways, we’ll use this in the right way as we continue to move ourselves forward.”