Tactical Mistakes From Opener Must Be Corrected In USA's Must-Win Match Against Costa Rica At Copa America

By Sean Hartnett
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For the United States to stay alive at Copa America, it must earn a victory on Tuesday night against Costa Rica.

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And the Americans must do so after demonstrating poor marking, committing frequent giveaways and lacking finishing prowess during their 2-0 tournament-opening defeat to Colombia last Friday.

That disappointing performance featured more of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s tactical miscues.

Veteran attacker Clint Dempsey was left alone on an island in a lone striker role. For the 33-year-old to be effective, he needs a partner up front and the opportunity to receive the ball deeper so that he can flex his creativity.

Klinsmann’s most head-scratching decision was starting promising forward Bobby Wood on left wing instead of playing him in his typical center forward role. As a result, Wood was forced wide in an unfamiliar position like a square peg being driven into a round hole. It’s time for Klinsmann to ditch the 4-3-3 and turn to a 4-4-2 formation with Dempsey operating as a withdrawn striker and Wood playing as an advancing striker.

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The switch to a 4-4-2 could also lead to Darlington Nagbe’s insertion into the starting XI. Nagbe can be an influential midfielder, but he wasn’t given the chance to make much of an impact against Colombia as he logged just 24 minutes in a substitute role. Fans are clamoring for him to be given a start against Los Ticos.

USA could use Nagbe’s poise and his ability to run at the defense against the stingy Costa Ricans. As evidenced in its 0-0 opening draw against Paraguay, Costa Rica is a very difficult side to break down. Working in the United States’ favor will be the absence of star keeper Keylor Navas. The Real Madrid shot-stopper was left off the Costa Rican 23-man squad due to an Achilles’ injury. Additionally, central defender Kendall Waston will miss Tuesday’s meeting after being sent off in the tournament opener.

Another interesting option for Klinsmann would be giving 17-year-old wonderkid Christian Pulisic a start. Pulisic’s fame has risen quickly after he earned nine Bundesliga starts for German giants Borussia Dortmund. The youthful midfielder offers quickness, shiftiness and is a threat in multiple areas of the pitch. He also has an uncanny ability to find space in tight areas.

The U.S. had solid possession numbers against Colombia, but they didn’t translate into many genuine scoring chances. That’s going to need to change against Costa Rica, or else the red, white and blue will be looking at an early exit from Copa America and calls for Klinsmann’s dismissal will grow louder.

With the home fans creating a lot of noise and excitement at Soldier Field, the Americans have been left with no choice but to show up and execute as they are capable. If not, there’s no telling what could happen to the manager and his roster.

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Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey