- - Thursday, June 9, 2016

PHILADELPHIA — After 12 days of group stage play, the Copa America Centenario knockout round begins next weekend. But as far as Jurgen Klinsmann is concerned, single-elimination play kicks off Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.

A win or, in all likelihood, a draw against Paraguay will book the U.S. national team’s ticket to the Copa America quarterfinals next weekend. For the second consecutive match, a loss means elimination for the host nation.

“This is already a knockout game on Saturday,” Klinsmann said Thursday before training at Penn. “You need to get at least one point. We are not playing for one point — we cannot do that, it is not our character. We go for the win because otherwise we might punish ourselves there.”

Facing a do-or-die situation Tuesday in Chicago, the U.S. bounced back from its opening loss with a 4-0 shellacking of Costa Rica. Although a draw theoretically could still see the U.S. eliminated on Saturday, that scenario would require Costa Rica to record a six-goal win over group front-runner Colombia.

It’s an enviable situation for a team that entered Tuesday’s match facing its fair share of criticism after a 2-0 defeat to Colombia.

“We talked so many times about the ability to know how to navigate through a group stage,” captain Michael Bradley said. “You know that it’s not always going to be perfect, you know there are going to be ups and downs, you know in certain moments maybe you’re going to get exactly what you deserve.

“But you have to be able to keep a strong mentality and understand just how to keep yourself going and live to see another day.”

Klinsmann on Tuesday opted to roll with the lineup that fell to Colombia, resisting the urge to rotate in fresh faces after the disappointing opener. He was handsomely rewarded against Costa Rica, with that lineup racing to a 3-0 halftime lead as Klinsmann used the same starters in consecutive games for the first time since June 2014.

While there was a tactical adjustment, with the Americans changing formations late in the first half, the growing chemistry was apparent in both alignments.

“Our hope was obviously to build a more fluid style by keeping the guys connected together, the same starting 11,” Klinsmann said. “That luxury, we never really get in World Cup qualifiers or other times of the year. We’re always missing guys and we always kind of have to improvise and fix things up.”

That cohesion is particularly apparent in defense, where the U.S. has not conceded a goal from the run of play in four consecutive matches, allowing just the pair of set-piece strikes against Colombia.

With English Premier League regulars Geoff Cameron and DeAndre Yedlin filling the right side of the back line and German Bundesliga stalwarts John Brooks and Fabian Johnson on the left, the U.S. boasts a unit entirely comprised of players starting in top European leagues.

“It’s a combination of organization, a combination of consistency, but probably more than all of that is just our ability to be hard to beat,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “In terms of being compact, being aggressive, determined to block shots, block crosses, stay with runners in the box — all of the little things that maybe go unnoticed from the outside, the guys in front of me have been doing a great job.”

Although Colombia and Costa Rica advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2014 and Paraguay failed to qualify, the Americans aren’t expecting a pushover Saturday. Paraguay is off to a solid 2-1-3 start in World Cup qualifying, including draws with global powers Brazil and Argentina, and advanced to the semifinals of the Copa America last year.

“We knew that we were in the toughest group here,” Klinsmann said. “But now everybody is hungry and eager to make things happen on Saturday night against a very strong Paraguay team.”

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