Gold Cup’s official slogan – “Not the international tournament you want; the international tournament you got – pretty much says it all. It is the North American equivalent of UEFA’s Euros or CONMEBOL’s Copa America (traditionally anyway), but unlike those associations there are really just three legitimate teams, a handful of squads that could potentially pull out an upset every once in a while, and a handful of tiny Caribbean islands and Central American micronations that are, respectively, too rum drunk and worried about narcoterror-related gun violence to care about being sacrificial lambs.
Sounds pretty godamn exciting, no? Damn skippy, so let’s get to it…
The tournament officially got underway last night with Costa Rica holding on for a 1-0 win and Canada scoring more goals but ultimately losing by conceding twice to something called French Guiana. As things stand, here are the three groups:
Teams capable of winning the damn thing: USA and Mexico
Teams also probably capable of winning the damn thing but who I am compelled to throw shade at because FIFA consistently rates them as better than the US: Costa Rica
Teams capable of pulling off an upset here and there: Jamaica, Panama
Teams that consider themselves capable of pulling off an upset here and there but in reality rarely do: Canada
More focused on getting rum drunk/avoiding gun violence: Martinique, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras
Other sacrificial lambs: French Guiana, Curacao
So that’s pretty much the long and the short of it. Now on to this afternoon’s game…
USA vs PANAMA
Time: 3:30 pm CT
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
There are must-win games. There are must-not-lose games. And then there are games like today’s matchup against Panama, which I would characterize as should-win-but-if-we-don’t-that’s-embarrassing-but-not-the-end-of-the-world.
The USMNT has lost a grand total of one – ONE! – group stage game since the current format of the Gold Cup was put in place in the early 1990s. It should be noted that we have benefitted from having played most of those games here on home soil because we are the biggest swinging dick in the cracker factory (ie, this is where the money is), but it still goes to show how CONCACAF is and will probably always be a federation of a couple haves and whole lot of have nots.
Among the have nots though Panama is one of the most dangerous – or at least it has been traditionally. The team is in the midst of a changing of the guard, with mainstays like (Seattle’s) Roman Torres, (Houston’s) Adolfo Machado and (Dinamo Bucure?ti’s) Jaime Penedo not being named to the squad. The coach has instead gone with a bunch of young whipper snappers.
The fact is though that this game ain’t even really about them.
As a quick reminder, Christian Pulisic was left off the Gold Cup roster in order to give the other teams a fighting chance. Many other guys who would be in a first choice XI have also been given a rest as Bruce Arena takes a look at some new blood. Indeed, this tournament has in past years been the “coming out party” for a lot of players who then went on to play crucial roles in the following summer’s World Cup. Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley (2001), Clint Dempsey and Jimmy Conrad (2005), as well as Stuart Holden (2009) are some examples that come to mind.
Point being, there are likely to be at least a couple guys from the roster below who play today and end up getting important minutes at Puty’s WC next summer.
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
DEFENDERS: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, MEX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, ENG), Matt Miazga (Chelsea, ENG), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, MEX), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana, MEX), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana, MEX), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)
One roster change was made after the friendly against Ghana as Kenny Saief, who just declared and got cap-tied by the US, hurt his groin and was replaced by former Jackass star Chris Pontius. Horrible timing for Saief who was finally in a position to try and establish himself with the MNT, and now risks not getting another legitimate shot this cycle. No bueno.
THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
• Who is going to score tons goals against crap teams now that Chris Wondolowski isn’t around? This of course is the million dollar question. Dom Dwyer looked solid against Ghana, but would be nice to see Agudelo and/or Morris step up alongside him. Morris, especially, has seemingly hit a bit of a lull after announcing his presence with authority last year. It’s put up or shut up time if he has any shot of making the WC squad.
• Can our central midfielders – likely Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta – dominate possession and control the pace of play?
• Will Jorge Villafaña continue his push to be the clear favorite at left back?
USMNT to win 3-1.
And there we have it. I’ll be back next week with a preview for our game against something called Martinique on Wednesday (July 12).