The stakes have never been higher for the United States Men’s National team (USMNT), as they gear up for the 2019 Gold Cup. This competition signifies the first competitive matches the US will play in more than a year.
The last competitive match the United States played resulted in the heart breaking loss against Trinidad and Tobago that resulted in the US not making the World Cup. Now, under new head coach Gregg Berhalter, the United States is ready to show off their new young squad and take the Gold Cup by storm.
The past two Gold Cup tune up games have clearly not gone the US’s way as they got shutout by Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake and Jamaica, as well as a weak Ecuador side. A lot of criticism has been directed towards this new US side as veterans Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore remain in the squad, while others such as 19 year-old forward Josh Sargent was left off.
After two very disappointing results, some are skeptical that this US team may not even survive the weak Group D that they are in. Before the games kick off this coming weekend, let’s take a look at the opponents and then prev the United States will have to deal with.
FIFA Ranking: 174
Gold Cup Appearances: 1 (first appearance in 2019)
Best Gold Cup Finish: N/A
Head Coach: Michael Johnson
Player to watch: F. Sheldon Holder
Guyana is another new team on the block this year, as they make their Gold Cup Debut. Due to their newness to a big competition, they are unfamiliar to many. However, they do have a few players to watch out for when they make their debut. Forwards Emery Welshman (7 goals in 9 appearances) and Sheldon Holden (6 Goals in 22 Appearances) are their leading scorers. Daniel Wilson, who could start on the wing for Guyana, is considered to be a midfielder with a forward mentality. This relatively young midfield is bolstered by the experience of Neil Danns (36 years old) and Philadelphia Union midfielder Warren Creavalle (28 years old). The experienced defender anchoring the back for Guyana is Sam Cox who leads the defense in 13 appearances for the club. Between the pipes should be 30 year-old Akel Clarke of Surinamese club Walking Boyz Compnay. All in all this team is fairly in experienced on the big stage and the other three teams should have fairly little trouble taking them on.
FIFA Ranking: 74
Gold Cup Appearances: 10
Best Gold Cup Finish: Runners Up in 2005 and 2013
Head Coach: Julio Dely Valdes (Interim)
Player to watch: F. Gabriel Torres
Panama without a doubt will be the toughest opponents the US will face in this group. After the horrible result against Trinidad and Tobago last year for the US, Panama ended up stealing that final World Cup spot away. Panama has always been a challenge in this Gold Cup and this year should be no different. Forward Gabriel Torres who has been with this team for years, should be the guy to watch out for. He has 15 goals in 80 appearances and is the big veteran presence this offense needs. In the midfield, look out for former Toronto FC midfielder Armando Cooper who will be rocking the captain’s arm band throughout the tournament. Former San Jose Earthquake midfielder Alberto Quintero will be the creative play-making maestro in the midfield, so he’s going to be another player to look out for when he’s in. Seattle Sounder defender Roman Torres will be the heart and soul on the back line. His big physical frame will without a doubt be a handful to get by. Finally manning the net for Panama most likely will be Luis Mejia, who could potentially be the new face of Panamanian goalkeeping. Despite some rough recent results expect Panama to finish 1st in the table.
Trinidad and Tobago
FIFA Ranking: 93
Gold Cup Appearances: 16
Best Gold Cup Finish: Runners Up in 1973
Head Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Player to watch: M. Kevin Molino
Trinidad and Tobago could be the team going head to head with the US in the table throughout the group stage. They have a more competitive roster than Guyana but not quite enough talent to upend Panama or the US. Both forwards listed on the roster (Lester Peltier and Shahdon Winchester) are capable of putting up goals, but the real star of this team is current Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino. Now Molino has had a few injury plagued years recently, but has shown flashes of the brilliance he once had. Molino is a quick, versatile outside midfield who can handle forward responsibilities. He has 19 goals in 43 appearances and expect him to tack on a few more in this tournament. Carlyle Mitchell and Daniel Cyrus should be able to hold down the back-line, with seasoned vet Marvin Phillip most likely in the net. Despite a weaker group, expect Trinidad and Tobago to place 3rd with hopes on moving on to the knockout stage.
FIFA Ranking: 33
Gold Cup Appearances: 17
Best Gold Cup Finish: Champions in 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013, and 2017
Head Coach: Gregg Berhalter
Player to watch: M. Christian Pulisic
Despite having the highest FIFA ranking in this group, recent poor results have made many believe that the US will not finish 1st in this group. The red, white, and blue have high hopes for newly capped forward Tyler Boyd up front, but expect big contributions in the chances department from Gyasi Zardes, and Jozy Altidore. The US offense will have to be based around 20 year-old Christian Pulisic. Pulisic, who just transferred to English powerhouse Chelsea, has 10 goals in 25 appearances. He’ll most likely play on the wing and should be a nightmare on the flanks for the other three teams. The youngster is by far the most talented player in the group, with another 10-13 years to go. Expect Pulisic to have at least two goals by the time group play ends. The back-line will be an issue for the US with no John Brooks back there, so Chelsea defender Matt Miazga and LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman need to step up if given the starts. Finally, the future of US goalkeeping Zack Steffen has to be excellent if the US want to win. No one believes he’s quite Tim Howard yet, but the potential and flashes of greatness could come alive in this tournament. Overall, the US should finish 2nd and advance to the knockout stage. It will be there when we will be able to tell if this youth movement for the US will work out or not.
Can the USMNT get out of Group D?
I believe due to the weak nature of teams like Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago the US should be able to climb out of Group D. I see Panama being the US’s biggest opponent, and quite frankly I see them winning the Group. This US team does have some talent but with so many question marks with consistency and team chemistry, some may still doubt the US’s ability to get out of the group.
Overall, the United States should place 2nd or better and escape from Group play. Once they get into the knockout stage however, I don’t see this team going real far. They most likely will get Honduras or Jamaica, and although those teams aren’t super strong, they might be just competitive enough to knock the US out. For instance, the US got blanked by Jamaica just a few weeks ago in an International friendly. My overall prediction for the US is an early knockout round exit. If they get a win in the knockout stage it’ll be against Jamaica or Honduras and that’s it. With the inexperience and lack of superstar quality on this team sadly, I don’t see the Red White and Blue progressing any further in such a talented tournament.
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Mandatory Credit: USsoccer.com