The United States' loss to Colombia in their Copa America Centenario wasn't a killer by any means. Los Cafeteros were expected to beat the Americans, just like they are expected to win their other two matches in the group stage. But it did put the U.S. into an unenviable situation for Tuesday's match against Costa Rica.
If the U.S. lose to the Ticos, their Copa America is over. They will be assured of missing out on the knockout stages and their Saturday match against Paraguay will be meaningless to them.
A loss would put the U.S. on zero points after two matches, with Costa Rica on four, guaranteeing that the Ticos would finish ahead of them. And no matter what happens in the Colombia vs. Paraguay match later in the night, one of those would have to be on at least four points as well, assuring that two teams would finish ahead of the Americans and clinching elimination for the hosts.
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Beyond the end of the Americans' Copa America Centenario, which is undoubtedly the focus and top priority, there would also be another casualty for the U.S. - their claim as an undisputed top two team in CONCACAF.
Mexico are unquestionably the top team in the confederation right now, but that's a title the U.S. has held a couple times in the last 15 years. The Americans and Mexicans have generally spent that time battling to be the top team in the region and lording over the rest of the teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. But the U.S. have seen their place in the top two slip in the last two years.
A year ago, the U.S. went out in the semifinals of the Gold Cup, ending a run of five consecutive finals in the tournament. Then they lost in the third place match, leaving them in fourth. In the CONCACAF championship, the U.S. weren't first or second, they weren't even third.
Now, if they add another tournament loss to a CONCACAF team, this time a Costa Rica side that many have considered the confederation's third best team, and in a match that would eliminate them from Copa America, the U.S. won't really be able to claim that they're the second best team in CONCACAF. Certainly not this summer.
The good news for the U.S. is that disaster isn't imminent. They have long played well on home soil and especially at Soldier Field in Chicago, where they will take on Costa Rica. And more important than that, they control their own destiny in Group A.
If the U.S. can beat Costa Rica and then Paraguay, they are guaranteed a place in the quarterfinals. That is why losing to Colombia wasn't a major problem. They still had a clear path out of the group. Even a win over the Ticos and then a draw over Paraguay will probably get them into the quarterfinals so while that wouldn't exactly be an inspiring way to the knockout stages, it would still be plenty effective.
Of course, a draw complicates things and brings Paraguay and Costa Rica's results of Colombia into play, not to mention requires the U.S. beat Paraguay. But it's a way out and with a draw and win, the Americans would probably get through to the quarterfinals. Again, it wouldn't be inspiring, but major tournaments aren't often a place to get especially picky about how a team gets results and advancement.
So the U.S. needs a result against Costa Rica. A loss and they're done for, their Copa America over and the pitchforks will be coming out. The pressure is on the Americans. But tournament elimination on Tuesday is the worse case scenario.
The reality is the Americans still look good. All they have to do is beat Costa Rica and Paraguay on home soil, which isn't an especially tall task. And if they can't do that, they have much bigger problems than Copa America Centenario anyway.
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