School was back in session for the young U.S. national team Thursday. And once again the lessons it learned in an exhibition were harsh ones, with Colombia running roughshod over an inexperienced American defense in a 4-2 victory.
“You can scout teams, you can watch teams, you can talk about moments that might come in a game,” interim coach Dave Sarachan said. “But now you’re stepping on a field and having to make decisions quickly. So speed of play, the moments where they play a ball and take off, all of these moments for young players add up in terms of their experience.
“That’s so important for these guys. That’s why you play these games.”
They played it Thursday in front of a crowd of 38,631, many of whom came dressed in the bright yellow of Colombia, making the lower bowl of Raymond James Stadium look like a field of golden poppies. And the South Americans gave their fans plenty to cheer, using second-half goals from Carlos Bacca, Radamel Falcao and Miguel Borja to erase a short-lived U.S. lead.
Colombia’s other goal came from James Rodriguez in the first half while Kellyn Acosta and Bobby Wood accounted for the U.S. scores.
And it could have been worse since Colombia outshot the U.S. 17-5 and dominated the time of possession. The South Americans were most successful against the novice left side of the U.S. defense manned by midfielder Kenny Saief and left back Antonee Robinson, neither of whom had more than four games of international experience.
The core of Colombia’s team played that many games in the last World Cup alone and they had little trouble turning the matchup into a mismatch.
Rodriguez got the first goal in the 36th minute, accepting a ball from Santiago Arias at the top of the penalty area, taking two chopped steps to his right, slamming on the brakes and spinning back the other way to lose Saief before curling a left-footed shot from the right edge of the box just inside the left post.
“There were a lot of individual mistakes that created their chances and we got punished,” Sarachan said. “That’s part of the process. And I think we’re going to learn a lot from this.”
The U.S. put some of that education to work at the start of the second half on goals from Acosta and Wood who, along with midfielder Julian Green, drew praise from Sarachan. On the first, Acosta charged straight up the middle of the field before sliding into the box to get his right foot on a high, chipped cross from Robinson. Wood got his on a counterattack, slicing between two defenders to knock in a pass from Tim Weah.
But moments later Colombia brought on midfielder Juan Quintero and the game changed, with Bacca stepping in front of a U.S. defender to redirect an Arias feed into the net.
Less than 20 minutes later Falcao put Colombia in front to stay, finishing a counterattack by drilling a right-footed shot into the bottom right corner in the 74th minute. Borja closed the scoring, losing his defender and bicycle-kicking in a feed from Rodriguez.
“We should have sealed the victory,” defender Matt Miazga said. “We gave up some soft goals and we have to learn from these.”
Thursday’s game also marked captain Michael Bradley’s return to the lineup for the first time in a year, although the most notable thing about his appearance was the fact that it was his 141st for the national team, tying Clint Dempsey for third all-time U.S. list. Bradley then used that wisdom to put the night in perspective.
“Nobody should feel defeated,” he said.
“It’s experience. It’s understanding that if you make any type of little mistakes they’re ready to pounce. It’s the full package.”