Second-place in Group A will be decided on Saturday night (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1) as the United States (1-0-1) takes on Paraguay (0-1-1) at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
Colombia (2-0-0) wrapped up first-place with its 2-1 defeat of Paraguay on Tuesday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Earlier that evening, the U.S. thrashed Costa Rica (0-1-1) 4-0 at Soldier Field in Chicago which means that all the Americans need to advance on Saturday is a tie against Paraguay.
After losing to Colombia 2-0 in its opener last Friday, the United States couldn’t have asked for a much better response against Costa Rica. Suddenly their goal-differential of minus-2 was flipped around to plus-2.
Just as important, the team regained its confidence as they sprinted out to a three-goal lead in the first half and cruised to an unexpectedly easy victory over their CONCACAF rivals (their largest margin of defeat ever vs. Costa Rica). Four different guys scored goals for the Americans as midfielder Clint Dempsey (converted a penalty kick drawn by striker Bobby Wood), midfielder Jermaine Jones and Wood all found the back of the net in the first 42 minutes. Substitute midfielder Graham Zusi added the finally tally in garbage time (87th minute) on a pretty individual play and goalkeeper Brad Guzan (2 saves) notched the relatively easy shutout in his hometown.
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Paraguay had a scoreless draw with Costa Rica in its opener last Saturday so clearly goal-scoring has been an issue for them. Expect Paraguay to be desperate from the first minute on Saturday since they know that nothing but their best effort of the tournament will get them past the U.S. and into next week’s quarterfinals.
The explosive Colombian offense jumped ahead 2-0 in the first 30 minutes of their match with Paraguay finally getting on the scoresheet in the 71st minute as midfielder Victor Ayala scored on a long-distance blast (one of the top goals of the 2016 Copa America thus far). Fellow midfielder Oscar Romero thwarted the comeback attack for Paraguay shortly thereafter though as he picked up a pair of yellow cards in the span of three minutes (79th minute and 81st minute), forcing his team to play down a man the rest of the way.
Still, Paraguay is a solid team (they held a 56 percent-44 percentadvantage in possession vs. Colombia) and they won’t be a pushover by any means for the U.S. As always in a knockout game like this, the first goal (assuming that there is one) will be critical. If the Americans can go up 1-0 (or even more) on Paraguay, it could really swing things in their favor. Obviously, the crowd will be squarely on the Americans’ side which will provide a nice home-field advantage.
Follow Metro Boston soccer writer Richard Slate on Twitter: nverted a pe”>@RichSlate