Couch: Nagbe, Pulisic could start for US vs. Colombia – but probably won't

You’re a US fan. You’re excited. Warm-ups went well, and the Copa America Centenario opens Friday with a tremendous opportunity: the US national team takes on perennial power Colombia with a clear sports slate. This prime-time matchup (9:30pm ET | FS1) could be the moment when everything comes together in your Yankee soccer experience.

It even looks, based on the 23, that national team head coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann has loosened the roster reins, giving playing time to the creatives and the kids, notably Portland Timbers product Darlington Nagbe and 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund (née Pennsylvania) prodigy Christian Pulisic.

But when that XI is announced Friday evening, don’t expect either to earn a starting spot. Three things to consider:

1. This squad is deep … and good

Look, Jurgen’s on the record saying there’s “more to come” from Nagbe, and that Pulisic has no fear. He put them both through to the final roster. And they’re going to play.

But they’re new to the national squad: Nagbe only debuted in November, and Pulisic in March. The midfield features World Cup veterans who continue to produce (SEE: Jones, Jermaine) and provide hope when Klinsmann deploys them most effectively (Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley). Up on the wings, if this recent 4-3-3 is for real, Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey would seem … hard to displace. Zardes is in form for club and country, and Deuce is not only the most proven scorer on the squad, but also the most likely to come up with something out of nothing.

2. JoMo fever has broken

Despite a strong surge after finally finding his goal-scoring touch, Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris‘ assumed spot was assigned away … to the wily, goal-poaching metronome that is Chris Wondolowski. That Klinsmann went with again-in-form Wondo (7 goals, 12 games; 0.58 G/90min) over the Sounders Homegrown speaks to his mindset entering the tournament, let alone this pressure-packed opener.

“We believe that players really played their way into that [Copa America] roster, and it’s difficult,” Klinsmann said a few weeks back. “There are some situations that probably the fans will now discuss. Why not Jordan Morris and Wondo is in there? Well, because Wondo proves all the time that he just is so hungry for goals, and Jordan is on his way through the ranks coming up.”

Doesn’t sound like someone riding the hype train.

3. The US need a result

Simply put, by the US boss: “We start the tournament with a final.”

Colombia ranks No. 5 in the current ELO ratings. Of the 16 Copa squads they’re No. 3, behind Argentina and Brazil, because those two squads are ridiculous. It’s not the opponent for experimentation – starting upside over experience would be a concession before the first kick. Give stars like James Rodriguez and Carlos Bacca an inch, and, well … don’t give them the inch.

A victory against Colombia, and the US (ELO rank: 29) is sitting pretty, with familiar Costa Rica (ELO: 20) and beatable Paraguay (ELO: 32) remaining. A draw Friday, and solid results there put the Yanks through. But a loss means that Costa Rica match becomes a must-win. You trusting the kids if it’s your neck on the line? Or going with what – Gold Cup crash aside – has gotten you consistent results?

What say you? Team #StartEm or #SitEm? Let me know.

Source: MLS – MLS

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