Soccer

Michael Bradley returns, but U.S. outmatched by Colombia

AP, AFP-JIJI

This loss did not sting for Michael Bradley, far different from the previous one.

Carlos Bacca, Radamel Falcao and Miguel Borja scored second-half goals to lead Colombia over the United States 4-2 on Thursday night in an exhibition that marked the return of Bradley to the national team following a one-year absence.

“Personally to step on the field again, to have another chance to represent my country, that part never gets old,” Bradley said. “Games like this are an important part of the process. You play against a team like Colombia, if the way you deal with certain advantages they have isn’t quite good enough then they can punish you.”

The captain was dropped from the national team along with most veterans after the loss at Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10 last year that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances. The 31-year-old midfielder, who hopes to play a role in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, made his 141st international appearance, tying Clint Dempsey for third on the American list behind Cobi Jones (164) and Landon Donovan (157).

“On the whole, a very solid night,” interim coach Dave Sarachan said. “Michael is still a guy that has played in big games, nothing fazes him. He’s trying to carry himself and do his job along with making sure he’s helping the guys alongside him. When they started throwing numbers forward, it’s just not on Michael. He needed some help on either side, left and right.”

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan also was back for the first time in a year but the 34-year-old was on the bench as 23-year-old Zack Steffen started his fourth straight U.S. match.

A trio of top young American midfielders missed the game because of injuries: 20-year-olds Christian Pulisic (torn calf muscle) and Weston McKennie (right adductor muscle), and 19-year-old Tyler Adams (back spasms).

Ben Sweat, a 27-year-old left back from nearby Palm Harbor, entered in the 75th minute and became the 19th player to make his debut under Sarachan, who took over when Arena quit after the loss in Trinidad.

“There was a ton of emotion, a ton of passion,” Sweat said. “It’s a special moment.”

Sarachan thought Sweat had good moments and indecisive ones.

“It’s a hard game to come into,” Sarachan said. “As a defender with the likes of the players they have, you get out of a little Volkswagen and you get into a Ferrari pretty quick.”

The U.S. has three wins, three losses and three ties under Sarachan, who also will lead the team for Tuesday’s exhibition against Peru in East Hartford, Connecticut. A new coach is expected to be hired later this year, and Gregg Berhalter of Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew is the favorite.

The Americans had not allowed four goals since 4-0 loss at Costa Rica in a November 2016 World Cup qualifier that caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire coach Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Bruce Arena.

“We let ourselves down a little bit in terms of that middle part of the second half,” Bradley said.

Before a crowd of 38,631 that was about three-quarters pro-Colombian, James Rodriguez put the visitors ahead with a pretty curling shot from just inside the penalty area in the 36th, but the U.S. regrouped and took a 2-1 lead on goals by Kellyn Acosta in the 50th minute and Bobby Wood in the 53rd.

“I thought the response beginning the second half to put the game back in on terms was very good,” Bradley said. “Nobody should feel defeated in any way. It’s experience, it’s understanding what it’s like when you play against these teams.”

Canada in CONCACAF semis

In Edinburg, Texas, Janine Beckie and Nichelle Prince scored in the first half and Canada went on to beat Costa Rica 3-1 on Thursday in the final game of the group stage at the CONCACAF Women’s World Cup qualifying tournament.

Canadian captain Christine Sinclair scored her 175th career goal in the 57th minute. Sinclair, who plays for the Portland Thorns, is closing in on Abby Wambach’s record of 184 international goals.

The result put Canada and Jamaica in the semifinals of the tournament, set for Sunday in Frisco, Texas. Jamaica, which has never been to a World Cup, defeated Cuba 9-0 in the earlier game at HEB Park.

Costa Rica and Cuba were eliminated, joining Group A’s Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago.

Gloria Villalobos scored the lone goal for Costa Rica in the 72nd minute.

Canada finished in first place in Group B and will face Panama in the semis. Jamaica has the daunting task of facing the top finisher in Group A, the top-ranked U.S. women’s national team.

The top three finishers in the tournament will earn CONCACAF’s spots in the World Cup next year in France. The fourth-place team will meet Argentina in a playoff for a berth.

Asian Cup adds substitute

Next year’s Asian Cup will allow a fourth substitute when games go to extra time, the Asian Football Confederation announced on Friday.

The move follows a change to the official Laws of the Game, which was also implemented at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

“I am confident the new regulations will add to the excitement of Asia’s flagship national team competition and further strengthen the AFC’s ambitions to be the world’s leading Confederation,” AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said in a statement.

The same rule will also apply at the AFC U19 Championship, starting next week in Indonesia, as well as next year’s AFC U19 Women’s Championship and the AFC U23 Championship in Thailand in 2020, the AFC said.

The AFC has also said it is considering using Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology “at some stage” at the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, which will run from Jan. 5 to Feb. 1.