SANTA CLARA, Calif. - There was little surprising in the United States' 2-0 loss to Colombia that opened the Copa América Centenario on Friday night.
Faced with the powerful attacking threat posed by Colombian stars James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Carlos Bacca, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted for conservatism.
In the midfield, Jermaine Jones provided an extra layer of defensive steel alongside Michael Bradley.
Clint Dempsey, whose natural role is a withdrawn forward, was asked to lead the line, with strikers Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes cast as wide men on either side of him.
Young playmakers Darlington Nagbe and Hershey native Christian Pulisic, meanwhile, were left on the bench until the latter stages of the second half.
And even though Colombia spent much of the game playing conservative soccer of its own, the final score made the point well enough. Never mind that the U.S. completed more passes than Colombia, and officially recorded a higher percentage of possession. Colombia scored goals, and the U.S. did not.
Nonetheless, Klinsmann pronounced himself "very pleased with the performance of the team," and immediately started looking ahead. His team is in an escapable hole, but there will be little margin for error in the remaining group stage games: against Costa Rica on Tuesday in Chicago, and against Paraguay on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
"Give the three points to them, but, you know, it's absolutely no problem now going forward and saying we play Costa Rica to get three points , and we play Paraguay to get three points, and then we're in the quarterfinals," he said.
Colombia's first goal came in just the eighth minute, when Cristian Zapata hammered home a pinpoint corner kick served by Edwin Cardona. The Colombian majority in the Levi's Stadium crowd of 67,439 erupted.
They erupted again in the 40th minute, when a cross by Colombia's Farid Diaz hit the inadvertently outstretched hand of American defender DeAndre Yedlin within the confines of the 18-yard box. Referee Roberto Garcia immediately awarded a penalty kick, and rightly so. Colombian star James Rodriguez stepped up to the spot and coolly scored as Brad Guzan jumped in the wrong direction.
The second half brought better chances for the U.S., including a Dempsey header off a Bradley corner that was frantically cleared off the goal line by Colombia's Sebastián Pérez. And in the 64th minute, Dempsey hit a rasping free kick that Ospina denied with a brilliant diving save - the kind that showed why English power Arsenal has Ospina on its books.
In the 66th minute, Klinsmann withdrew Jones and Wood. In came Nagbe and Pulisic. All they had to do was save the game with just over 20 minutes remaining.
There was no comeback, but the game opened up considerably once they came onto the field. That, too, was not surprising.
Nor was the sense that if the United States is to reach the knockout stages, it might take Nagbe and Pulisic being more than second-half substitutes.
Klinsmann was asked after the game why he waited so long in the second half to bring on Nagbe and Pulisic. He didn't directly answer the question, choosing instead to focus on what he saw as positives from the night.
"You guys put the benchmark on the results," Klinsmann said to the assembled media, "but playing these guys and the quality they have, we were absolutely even."
Just not in the one category that really mattered.