For months now, members of the U.S. men’s national team have been talking up the rare and exciting chance they have at this summer’s Copa América to measure themselves against elite international opponents in games that really matter.

“We talk all the time about the opportunities to compete against the world’s best,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said again on Friday. His squad will get its first chance in Saturday’s friendly match against Colombia just outside the nation’s capital, in Landover, Maryland. 

Of the two Copa dress rehearsals the U.S. has on tap before kicking off June 23 versus Bolivia in North Texas — the Americans face five-time World Cup champ Brazil in Orlando, Florida next Wednesday — this is the easier one in theory.

In reality, Saturday’s contest will tell us just as much about Berhalter’s squad ahead of the tournament. Colombia is no slouch. Los Cafeteros come into the contest riding a 21-game unbeaten streak that dates to early 2022. The U.S. hasn’t defeated the Colombians since 2005, losing or tying the last seven meetings. The only national team in the world they’ve gone longer without beating? Brazil.

 “They’re a really strong side,” U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner said of the Colombians last week.

“I think they very much see themselves as favorites,” added central defender Chris Richards, who counts two members of manager Néstor Lorenzo’s squad, defender Daniel Muñoz and midfielder Jefferson Lerma, as club teammates at Premier League Crystal Palace. “All their games will probably feel like home games as well.”

Beginning on Saturday. Per a U.S. Soccer spokesperson, more than 50,000 tickets had been sold for the exhibition at the 68,000-seat Commanders Field, the home of Washington D.C.’s NFL team, as of Friday afternoon. It is safe to assume that many of those fans will be clad in yellow and cheering for the visitors. 

Colombia is led by dynamic Liverpool winger Luis Díaz. Its current streak includes impressive victories over Brazil, Germany and Spain — countries with 10 World Cup wins between them.

“Really physical team, really strong defensively,” Berhalter said. “I’m really excited about this game. I think it’s going to be a great test for us.”

It would’ve been a great test even in the Americans had their full allotment of players. But Berhalter revealed on Friday that striker Josh Sargent — a candidate to start after a prolific season in England’s second tier — won’t be available for selection because of a lingering foot injury and could miss the Copa América altogether. Longtime right back Sergiño Dest is already ruled out of the competition after learning an ACL in April.

“For the next two games, we will try different looks,” Berhalter said. “We’re certainly going to give the natural right backs an opportunity in these games, and then we’ll perhaps look at some other options.”

Besides Sargent, the other 26 players in camp are all healthy and ready to play. Berhalter said he plans to use the maximum six substitutions against both Colombia and Brazil.

Still, with just two chances to prepare for the main event, the U.S. coaching staff has to balance its desire to experiment with continuity when it comes to personnel.

“In general, the group is going to be consistent,” Berhalter said. “We’ll put out a strong lineup [versus Colombia] and we’ll put out a strong lineup against Brazil. There probably won’t be a ton of changes in those lineups as we move towards building a team to compete against Bolivia.

“We want to use this as an opportunity,” he added.

As challenging as it promises to be.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him at @ByDougMcIntyre.

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