COPA America 2016 – To Possess or Not to Possess?

A true tactical battle awaits soccer enthusiasts this week as two traditional possession-based teams are set to square up against two traditional counter-attacking teams.

Could the script have been written better than this?

In the World Cup we saw Spain and Brazil lose considerable face while the likes of Colombia and Costa Rica pushed forward.  Brazil didn’t improve while Spain seems to have shown better in Europe.

In the end, both Germany and Argentina faced off in the finals – will we see Chile and Argentina hold up the possession-based gang of teams or can the cede-possession-based teams squeak in?

Here’s a look at how the four teams line up when viewing their composite possession with purpose:


A slight up-tick for the USMNT from the end of group-stages while Chile kicked arse and pushed way forward.

In reflecting on the betting odds are with Bovada (see below) the possession-based teams are odds-on favorites:

  1. Argentina at -175
  2. Chile at +325
  3. Colombia at +500, and
  4. USA at +800

In peeling back the two parts of Possession with Purpose here’s how the four teams stack up against each other in attacking:

COPA AMERICA 2016 QUALITY IN ATTACKINGIn terms of overall passing accuracy not much separates the four teams and only when creating shots, and scoring goals do the differences take shape.

What’s interesting is that the possession-based teams show greater accuracy in putting shots on goal, per shots taken, but – surprisingly – the USA shows greater consistency in scoring goals, per shots taken, even with Chile absolutely decimating Mexico 7-nil.

What isn’t in this data is who’s missing from upcoming games and trying to balance out how those personnel losses impact team performance.  Who starts for the USMNT against Argentina?

  • Is it Beckerman, Zusi, and Wondolowski?
  • Is it Beckerman, Zusi, and Nagbe?
  • Is it Nagbe, Zusi, and Pulisic?
  • Is it Beckerman, Nagbe, and Pulisic?
  • Or some other option?

Lots of options and the one I’m hopeful of is Nagbe, Zusi, and Wondolowski.  I would submit the USMNT needs to stay on the front foot as much as possible (without a high press) against the passing and visionary wizardry of Argentina.

If you bunker in you’re only asking for facing 700-800 passes with nearly 25-30%% of those in your defending final third.  That much volume is surely going to see plenty of Argentina goal scoring opportunities.

Here’s how the teams stack up in defending possession with purpose – how successful their opponents are in attacking against them:


There’s no intent to be deceptive here – clearly Chile are wicked in attack.

But when looking at when the opponent does penetrate, and does put a shot on goal, they are likely to score against Chile!  Albeit, the actual volumes of shots on goal are small – but with clinical finishing and a disciplined defensive performance it does appear Chile could get beat.

If there’s any team that has defensive nous plus clinical finishing skills it’s Colombia.

In looking at the USA – the big weakness here is ceding just as much possession as Colombia – but a lack of speed and mentality in defending could be a downfall; especially with Jermaine Jones’ suspension.

Darlington Nagbe has paired with Diego Chara in a Timbers midfield diamond – perhaps we see that here?

Granted, Darlington Nagbe isn’t as defensive minded as Beckerman, but he possesses wicked good ball handling skills.  And if you want to try and win the midfield, and minimize an overwhelming amount of Argentina penetration. I reckon Nagbe needs to start.

As for Argentina?

Well… possession-based teams have a tendency to defend with the ball – it’s pretty clear Argentina are very good at that. So America needs to be extremely efficient in penetrating and creating; with a mix of Zusi on the wings (crossing) and Nagbe in the middle (dribble penetration) you get flexibility in addition to having both midfielders being pretty strong playing behind the ball too.

Id’ say the key for America, in defending, is two solid banks of four and plenty of midfielder pressure (in the midfield) to create turnovers.

For me, starting Pulisic is too attacking minded – and starting Beckerman is too defensive minded – hence Wondolowski, Zusi, and Nagbe.

This leaves Beckerman as a second half defensive sub and Pulisic as a second half attacking sub.

In summary:

If you’re banking on the attacking side of the equation, the early favorite is Argentina and a hedged bet on America.

If you’re banking on the defending side of the equation I’d still stick with Argentina to win it all and a hedged bet on Colombia.

Best, Chris