Teófilo Gutiérrez exploited the United States men’s team’s inability to close out matches to give Colombia a deserved 2-1 victory at Craven Cottage.
Gutiérrez floated free inside the goal area and nodded home Edwin Carmona’s tempting cross to complete the Colombian comeback. Jozy Altidore converted from the spot inside the first 10 minutes to give the Americans an early lead, but Carlos Bacca equalized on the hour to pave the way for Gutiérrez’s late heroics.
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Colombia should not have needed such a timely intervention after controlling the proceedings for much of the night. Their improvement after the interval eventually told an American side that once again faded after the interval and resorted to emergency defending for much of the second half. Yet another late collapse will give United States men’s national team manager Jürgen Klinsmann plenty to ponder as he prepares his side for the date against Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Tuesday.
"We saw our chance. We could have won this game. We didn’t," midfielder Mix Diskerud lamented after the match.
The night started on a much brighter note for the Americans and hardly forecasted the demise to come. Both teams barely settled into the frenetic, back-and-forth cadence of the opening stages before the Americans took the lead from the penalty spot.
“It seemed like when they came at you, they felt the momentum and came wave after wave. I felt like when we were able to get it down and move it between lines, we were able to get some good chances to change the game," Kyle Beckerman noted.
The entire sequence started with an alert play from Alejandro Bedoya to claim possession in the attacking third. Bedoya surged into the penalty area and won a free kick for his troubles. The resulting service created havoc that ended when Pablo Armero — helpfully nudged by debutant Rubio Rubin, much to the dismay of the furious Colombians — handled and referee Szymon Marciniak awarded a penalty. Altidore stepped to the spot and struck home his first goal on English soil since September to give the Americans the lead.
Colombia took firm control of the proceedings after conceding the opener, but the World Cup quarterfinalists lacked their usual sparkle inside the final third for much of the first half. James Rodriguez squandered a good opportunity from a free kick, while the buildup play curiously slowed at other points as the Americans entrenched inside their defensive third and shielded by the diligent Beckerman in midfield.
Abel Aguilar finally increased the tempo at the right time with a vertical ball in the channel and Colombia nearly reaped the benefits. Gutiérrez collected and supplied Bacca in a promising area. Bacca connected well at the first attempt, but his sweeping effort clipped the outside of the post before deflecting out of danger.
Fortune continued to favor the Americans on the stroke of halftime after Jones appeared to handle inside the penalty area. It looked an even better shout than the decision against Armero inside the opening 10 minutes, but referee Marciniak waved away the penalty shouts to the dismay of the frustrated Colombians.
Rubin nearly compounded the anger in the early moments of the second half. DeAndre Yedlin and Bedoya combined to create a chance at the far post. Rubin flung himself at the service, but he turned his diving header narrowly past the frame. It proved a potentially decisive moment for the Americans as they soaked up more and more pressure. Colombia pushed forward earnestly with more creativity and movement and reaped the expected benefits on the hour.
Rodriguez collected on the edge of the penalty area and slotted through the ragged American line. Gutiérrez — stationed in an offside position — allowed play to continue past him and watched Bacca slice through from the left to punish the defense for its hesitancy. Bacca rounded Guzan and calmly tucked into the vacated net to spark a deafening roar from the yellow-clad crowd.
By this stage, the Americans were largely pinned inside their own half with no viable way to relieve pressure. The hopeful balls out of the back were lost at midfield as the signs of another second-half fade rose to the fore yet again.
Klinsmann made three changes with 20 minutes or so left to play, but the alterations did little to shift the balance. The odd foray on the counter relieved the pressure intermittently, but it proved mostly a sequence of desperate defending to scrap clear time and again.
"This is exactly what we need. We need to learn to grind it out to the very end of the game. They had the upper hand at the end, but, overall, I saw – from a lot of players – a good performance," Klinsmann said.
Lee Nguyen — inserted in the final quarter of an hour for his first cap in seven years — nearly conjured an intricate winner nine minutes from time. His clever flick allowed Alfredo Morales to play Bobby Wood through, but Camilo Vargas rushed off his line to block.
It proved a critical intervention as the Colombian finally procured their deserved winner three minutes from time. Late substitute Edwin Cardona located some space near the endline and clipped a cross toward the far post. Gutiérrez rose highest and nodded past the stranded Guzan to complete the Colombian comeback and leave the Americans to wonder what they must do to close out matches.