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On anniversary of World Cup failure, USMNT looks forward to Colombia

TAMPA, Fla. — Some can remember every detail of where they were and what they were doing when it happened one year ago. Others just want to forget.

United States men’s national team midfielder Michael Bradley played all 90 minutes of the Oct. 10, 2017, loss to Trinidad & Tobago that eliminated the U.S. from 2018 World Cup qualification. But the pain felt when the final whistle blew doesn’t hound Bradley.

“It doesn’t linger at all,” he said Wednesday when asked about the anniversary. “Obviously, the disappointment, if you think about it, will always be there. That part, that part will never go away. But … in football, in life, things go on. The game doesn’t stop for anybody. Whether you qualify for the World Cup, don’t qualify for the World Cup, whether you win, lose, whether you’re here, whatnot, there’s always another game, there’s always another day.”

Today, that means preparing for a tough “Kickoff Series” match Thursday against Colombia at Raymond James Stadium. FS1, Univision and UDN will broadcast the 7:30 p.m. ET match. By Wednesday morning, 30,000 tickets had been sold. The attendance record for a USMNT game in Tampa is 31,547, set in 2007 against Ecuador.

The starting lineup and captain for the match had not been decided as of Wednesday morning’s training session, according to U.S. interim coach Dave Sarachan, but he’s confident the team that takes the field will compete fearlessly, honor the crest on their jerseys and show off their personalities while being tested by Colombia, which is coming off a World Cup appearance and is 14th in the FIFA World Rankings. The United States is No. 22. 

“Unique week for us, because by the time we had our full group here it was Wednesday,” Sarachan said. “We’ve got a good deal of work done in a short period of time. I’m excited for this particular roster. Good blend of experienced players and young players and new faces. The addition of a couple veterans has raised our level a little bit.”

Colombia, like the U.S., has an interim manager in Arturo Reyes, and a mix of experienced players and newcomers in Tampa. Twelve players return from the World Cup team, including midfielders James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado, forward Radamel Falcao and goalkeeper David Ospina. There are also four players looking to earn their first caps and two — defenders Cristian Borja and Devier Machado — who debuted during the last international window.

The U.S. is 3-12-4 all-time against Los Cafeteros, dating to 1961. One of those few victories came in the group stage of the 1994 World Cup, when the U.S. stunned Colombia 2-1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. 

“With Colombia, I respect them greatly, Sarachan said. “Obviously, coming from a World Cup in a very tough part of the world to qualify. Tremendous amount of talent. Attacking talent is outstanding and they brought a number of those guys here. Similar to us in that they want to prove to heir manager that they belong. They’re going to punish us for mistakes. It’s a great test for us.”

Especially without Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, three young players who have become central to the U.S. roster but are missing out on the Colombia game and next week’s matchup against Peru in East Hartford, Conn., due to injuries. 

Although Sarachan prefers have a full complement of players available, he thinks there are “a few good, young candidates who now have the opportunity to get on the field and show what they’re about.”

Players such as Kellyn Acosta, 23, Jonathan Amon, 19, Julian Green, 23, Kenny Saief, 24, and Tim Weah, 18, among others. 

“It’s a pity that Christian and Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams aren’t here, because they are starters and I think that they are certainly a core to build around,” Fox Sports analyst and former U.S. men’s national team player Alexi Lalas told Pro Soccer USA Wednesday. “Scoring goals is always going to be a concern. … So, a guy like [18-year-old] Josh Sargent, who’s come in, who is a goal scorer — albeit not yet in a consistent way — I think everybody will be watching him. Timothy Weah is now somebody who I think everybody has their eyes on, because he’s got the ability one-on-one to do things, and that’s exciting and something you want to see.”

That’s the most important part, according to Bradley, playing soccer the team and fans can be proud to support — something the U.S. failed to do one year ago. 

“My proudest moments as part of the national team are moments where … when the lights came on, we had a team that played and competed in a way where anybody who watched was excited and proud,” Bradley said. “You’re not always going to be able to succeed in doing that, but that’s the goal.”

And he thinks the group that will take on Colombia is capable of that.

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