akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


The cold, rainy December evening in midtown Manhattan presumably was a symbolic one for the United States Men’s National Team, as the night of the Copa America Centenario Draw dealt the them the toughest group pairing possible, including opening up the tournament against Colombia, ranked third in the world and coming off setting the World Cup stage alight less than two years ago.

Fast forward six months, and the Philadelphia sunshine also served as symbolism for the Red, White and Blue, as the team is very much alive after navigating through Copa’s “Group of Death.” After the United States’ 1-0 win over Paraguay to round out Group A, the team knew they were sure to advance, using Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 27th minute to propel them to victory at Lincoln Financial Field. Furthermore, Colombia was upset by Costa Rica, with that result making the United States winners of Group A, something that few outside of the squad imagined six days ago, let alone six months ago.

Arif Ahmed, A Lot of Sports Talk‘s United States Men’s National Team correspondent, was in South Philadelphia to report on the Group A finale, and, in his words, provide us his three prevailing thoughts of the win against the Paraguayans and the prospects of the national team going forward in the tournament.

1. There Should Be Fewer Questions About Who’s Between The Sticks

Brad Guzan arguably played his best games for the national team. Guzan was credited with seven saves, with two of the biggest coming in the 82nd minute, when he stopped back-to-back shots from inside the 6-yard box to preserve the lead and snuff out any hope that Paraguay could muster the two goals needed to advance to the knockout round. He also came up with a huge save near the end of the contest as well. It was great to see Guzan playing well after finally getting the chance to start after backing up mainstay Tim Howard for so long. Also, his efforts tonight should quiet the crowd still asking for Howard to return to the lineup after his hiatus from the national team. Guzan showed that he is more than capable of filling the big gloves of Howard.

2. John Brooks’s Potential Is Turning Into Real Promise

The man of the match performance, however, was turned in by center back John Brooks. This is the game the national team’s fans have been yearning for after seeing just glimpses of his potential in games throughout the past couple of years. He played a complete game, and was forced into playing the role of savior early in the 11th minute as Paraguay caught the US on a three-on-one counter after both DeAndre Yedlin and Geoff Cameron were caught in the attacking third. Brooks had to time his tackle perfectly as he slid to block a cross by Miguel Almiron inside the penalty area. He was dominant without giving up anything easy throughout the game. When asked about Brooks’ performance tonight, Jürgen Klinsmann thought as much, saying, “This is a big statement what he did tonight.” And he did it all without picking up a caution that would have seen him suspended for the quarterfinal match.

3. Resilience Might Be The Team’s Best Characteristic

The USMNT continues to play well when their backs are seemingly against the wall. Time after time, this team continues to rise up to the challenge when put in a difficult position, as they were after their opening game loss to Colombia last Thursday. They showed tremendous resiliency in bouncing back after that loss to deliver shutout wins against both Costa Rica and Paraguay, the latter made that much tougher after Yedlin picked up two yellow cards in a 30-second span to start the second half. Defending as a group, they were not only able to thwart several Paraguay attacks, but they also engineered a golden chance to put the game away when Gyasi Zardes was put through by a lovely through ball by Bobby Wood in the 62nd minute. Zardes failed to get a shot off as Paraguay keeper Justo Villar made a sprawling interception after Zardes’ first touch to keep his team’s hopes alive.

[Cover photo (John Brooks) courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images]

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