Copa América: USMNT cruises to businesslike win over Bolivia on goals from Christian Pulisic, Folarin Balogun

ARLINGTON, Texas — In its first of two pre-tests at the 2024 Copa América, the U.S. men’s national team wasted no time. It knew that with every passing scoreless minute, fans would grow restless; it knew that with every toothless possession, Bolivian confidence would grow. So, in the third minute of the USMNT’s Copa América opener here at AT&T Stadium, Christian Pulisic, Captain America, took control.

He curled a beauty into the top corner, and set an emphatic tone.

He preempted and blasted away any and all American concern.

Pulisic’s early goal kickstarted the USMNT to a 2-0 win over Bolivia on Sunday — and to what it hopes will be a prosperous tournament.

In many ways, the USMNT had to beat Bolivia, and simply did what it was told. The performance was more satisfactory than scintillating, more businesslike than thrilling or convincing. At times, it was boring, even dull.

But it was sufficient. After first-half momentum seemed to have fizzled, Folarin Balogun doubled the lead, and put Bolivia to bed.

After halftime, "U-S-A" chants began to chorus around JerryWorld, the 80,000-seat home of the Dallas Cowboys. The wave rolled counter-clockwise, enlivening an atmosphere that many feared would be stale.

The 400 level was indeed mostly empty, but 47,873 fans filled the lower bowls of the colossal building. They nearly erupted when Ricardo Pepi latched onto a slew of second-half chances; somehow, none of his shots — some from close range, some struck well — found the back of the net.

Although they didn't get a second-half goal, though, most of the fans seemed to appreciate the show.

They will also appreciate that this was something of an appetizer; and that the tests will only get tougher from here. Bolivia, arguably, is the worst team at this Copa América. Panama, a feisty CONCACAF foe, is next on Thursday in Atlanta.

Then comes Uruguay in Kansas City, and then a potential quarterfinal, likely against Colombia or Brazil. That is where this chapter of the USMNT story — and perhaps of Gregg Berhalter's second cycle at the team's helm — will be written.

The U.S. entered this tournament at a potential inflection point of the Berhalter era. Come mid-July, it could have signature wins and proof of concept; or it could have proof that pre-2022 progress has stagnated, and that the coach has to go.

Sunday, through that lens, was all risk and no reward. It was peril to be avoided rather than an opportunity to ascend. A win was the expectation, the demand. Anything less would've been a massive disappointment.

So, it was an expectation met. It was three points that the U.S. will take to Atlanta. And perhaps most importantly, as Berhalter said postgame, “it was never in doubt."

  • Final USMNT thoughts

    Well, that was... fine. Passable. Uninspiring at times, somewhat dynamic at others, sufficient in the end.

    It was the corollary of the U.S.-Jamaica game in March. On that night, and on many others, the U.S. has struggled to break down low blocks. On this night, Pulisic made that conversation moot less than three minutes in, and the U.S. cruised without really being challenged. Might the game have looked different if Pulisic hadn't curled a beauty into the top corner? Who knows.

    The positive takeaways:

    • Pulisic is the guy. He's in form. He loves the responsibility that the captain's armband gives him. He is ready to drive this team as far as he can.

    • Folarin Balogun got his first goal in six U.S. games. Could it boost his confidence, which seemed to be in the basement for the game's first 40 minutes? We'll see.

    • Tyler Adams started and came away unscathed.

    The negatives?

    • Ricardo Pepi didn't get his confidence-boosting goal, despite a flurry of chances.

    • The U.S. was somewhat sloppy and ragged in possession. A better team would've taken advantage.

    All in all, though, this is a game that we will forget. The next two, three or more will define the USMNT's Copa América.

  • RESULT: USA 2-0 Bolivia

  • USMNT close to 3 points

    After a mostly quiet second half, the U.S. seems comfortable riding the 2-0 scoreline to the final whistle. But not Ricardo Pepi, who took another shot from 5 yards out and was denied by Bolivia's Guillermo Viscarra. Then denied again after the deflection!

  • 86' U.S. substitution

    Tim Weah comes off for Brenden Aaronson.

  • 79' Pepi nearly gets on the board

    Ricardo Pepi fires off a shot on target, but is denied.

  • 74' U.S. substitution

    Luca De La Torre comes on for Weston McKennie.

  • 74' Substitution

    Bolivia's Ramiro Vaca replaces Jesus Sagredo.

  • 68' Substitution

    Carmelo Algaranaz replaces Bruno Miranda for Bolivia.

  • 65' Substitution

    USMNT replaces Folarin Balogun with Ricardo Pepi and Gio Reyna with Johnny Cardoso.

  • 60' Pulisic denied

  • Johnny coming on for Gio

    Berhalter shutting up shop

  • Tim Ream concern

    Ream appears to be struggling with something, though it's unclear what.

    Matt Turner just tossed the ball out of bounds so that he Ream could figure it out. Ream dropped into a crouch. Athletic trainers never came to check on him, so it looks like he'll continue. But we'll see if that concern lingers, and we'll see if Ream lasts 90 minutes.

  • 53' Balogun nearly gets his second

  • 50' Weah comes close

  • 49' Yellow card

    Weston McKennie earns his first booking after a tough challenge.

  • Halftime substitution for the U.S.

    Yunus Musah enters for Tyler Adams.

    Adams is surely on some sort of minutes limit. Whether the pre-determined limit was 45, or whether it was more but Berhalter decided the game was in control, we don't (yet) know.

  • 46' Substitution

    Yunus Musah replaces Tyler Adams for the U.S. On the Bolivian side, Miguel Terceros comes in for Cesar Menacho.

  • HALFTIME: USA 2-0 Bolivia

    The USMNT heads into the half with a comfortable 2-0 lead after goals from Christian Pulisic and Folarin Balogun.

  • Balogun really needed that

    "Balo" has been struggling for club and country. He had a pretty rough first 43 minutes tonight. His confidence seemed to be on the basement floor.

    Perhaps the goal will ignite him. If so, it would be a massive development for the USMNT at this Copa América.

  • 2-0! Balogun!

    Just as it seemed the first half was petering out, and familiar problems were plaguing the U.S. in the final third ... Folarin Balogun peels off the back shoulder of his Bolivian defender, takes a pass from Christian Pulisic, shifts the ball onto his left foot, and finishes across Bolivian keeper Guillermo Viscarra.

    That's 2-0 and, probably, game over. (Bolivia has offered nothing going forward.)

  • 44' GOAL

    Folarin Balogun gives the USMNT a 2-0 lead thanks to a Christian Pulisic assist.

  • If not for the early Pulisic goal ...

    ... the USMNT fan base would be on edge right now. Over the past 30 minutes, it's been a B-minus performance, at best. And all the momentum of the opening 10 minutes has fizzled. Crowd has quieted. Possession has been neither progressive nor clean.

    Still 1-0. And if it stays that way until halftime, honestly, from an American perspective, that'd be a bit disappointing.

  • Another Bolivian yellow card ...

    And this one was all about a clever U.S. buildup.

    The American defenders swung the ball right to left, to Antonee Robinson. He found a line-skipping passing lane into Folarin Balogun's feet. Balogun laid the ball off to Gio Reyna, who skipped past Bolivia's Luis Haquin. Haquin's only option was to take Reyna down.

  • 31' Yellow card

    Reyna causes another booking, this time against Bolivia's Luis Haquin

  • 27' Yellow card

    Bolivia's Leonel Justiniano was just booked for a rough tackle on USMNT's Gio Reyna.

  • Gio Reyna goes down with a knock

    He's back up, and it looks like he'll be fine. But it was a somewhat nasty tackle from Bolivia's Leonel Justiniano. Earns a yellow card.

  • Midway through the first half...

    This is not at all the game many expected it to be — Bolivia bunkering, U.S. cautiously possessing, slow pace.

    Instead, the U.S. has been relatively eager to play forward. Its possession game has been a bit ragged. But chances are coming freely, because the American players are simply better and making plays. Bolivia is trying (but mostly failing) to stand up to the U.S.

    Of course, we'll never know how much the early goal influenced this rhythm. But my guess is not much.

  • What doesn't Captain America do?

  • Strong U.S. start

    The USMNT has been on the front foot since the very first minute.

    Tim Weah had a chance to make it 2-0, and forced a good save from Bolivian keeper Guillermo Viscarra.

    The only worry, now, is that the U.S. might take its foot off the proverbial gas. A couple players have gotten caught on the ball over the past few minutes. Bolivia, though, didn't have the quality to take advantage in transition.

  • Another angle of Pulisic's golazo

  • 3' GOAL for the USMNT

    The U.S. is on the board thanks to this Christian Pulisic laser!

  • Pulisic!

    Boom. 1-0 to the U.S. in the third minute. Excellent goal.

    The Americans have come to play

  • 🇺🇸 vs. 🇧🇴 is underway!

  • Christian Pulisic captains the U.S. today

    Even with Tyler Adams back in the lineup, Pulisic will wear the armband.

    When he first wore it over five years ago, he was an introvert somewhat ill-prepared for the role. But he has absolutely grown into it, and takes pride in the responsibility. Teammates listen to him. They follow him. He is, in a way, finally "Captain America."

  • Crowd is filling in decently

    AT&T Stadium will not be anywhere close to full, especially at the 400 level. But fears that it would be alarmingly empty seem to be unfounded.

    And this will be a pro-U.S. crowd, for three main reasons:

    1. There are far fewer Bolivian Americans than, say, Colombian Americans or Peruvian Americans — less than 200,000, per U.S. government data.

    2. Soccer, generally, is not quite as central to Bolivian national identity as it is in, say, Argentina or Uruguay.

    3. Related to No. 2, the men's national team hasn't been all that good. Not many fans would travel all the way here from Bolivia for the Copa América. And not many have come from within the U.S., especially given the exorbitant ticket prices.

    All of that said ... never doubt the ability of Latino soccer fans to be loud.

  • Some light reading ahead of kickoff

    From Yahoo Sports senior writer Henry's Bushnell's USMNT preview:

    The U.S. men’s national team will get its first formidable, official test since the 2022 World Cup at the 2024 Copa América, a stateside soccer extravaganza that begins Thursday and, as U.S. midfielder Tyler Adams said, “feels big.”

    “It's not quite the World Cup,” Adams added earlier this month. “But I think it's the next best thing.”

    It’s a rare opportunity for the USMNT to confront A-list opponents in meaningful matches, and measure progress ahead of the 2026 World Cup (also stateside).

    It’s big enough, therefore, for a grand, all-encompassing, World Cup-style preview — 20 questions and answers about the USMNT as it prepares for this pan-American Copa. [Read the full preview here.]

  • Not a 'must-win,' but... the USMNT better win

    This is an opener. No opener can make or break any team in a three-game group stage. That being said, though ...

    Bolivia is bad. Bad enough that it's necessary to explain why they're bad. Anything less than a win for the U.S. today would be a massive letdown. Even a draw would put extreme pressure on the players and head coach Gregg Berhalter entering their second match against Panama on Thursday in Atlanta.

    (They'd still be comfortably favored to advance from the group, but the vibes would be, uh, quite bad.)

  • USMNT's tumultuous path to Copa América 2024

  • No surprises in the U.S. lineup vs. Bolivia

    Once upon a time, every USMNT lineup release was suspenseful.

    Nowadays, they're pretty straightforward. Today's starting 11 is exactly what you'd expect:

    The only question mark coming into today was whether Tyler Adams was fit enough to start. He is. The question now becomes whether Adams can go 60, 75 or even 90 minutes.

    Here's the official team sheet from CONMEBOL, the tournament organizers:

    (via CONMEBOL)
    (via CONMEBOL)
  • Hello and welcome to Yahoo Sports and our live coverage of the USMNT's Copa América opener vs. Bolivia.