July, it’s typically a drought in terms of sports news. NBA Finals wrapped up, NFL preseason still has another month till kickoff, and it is the dog days of the MLB season. Even for soccer, which is considered a year round affair, not much to mention besides outrageous transfer rumors for outrageous sums of money…
However, there is a dim light of hope for our sports entertainment, US soccer. That game where the field is too long, the clock seems to never stop, and the players scream bloody murder to get a foul called. While it is a tall task to convince a non-soccer fan to watch such a minor competition, I will do my best (If you haven’t already redirected to do your tenth fantasy football mock draft at work).
The Gold Cup is the regional tournament for CONCACAF, which is basically just North American and Caribbean island countries. If a team wins this competition this year and in 2019, they automatically qualify for the Confederations Cup. If a team wins one year and another country wins the other, they play in a “do or die” one game playoff. Winner goes to the prestigious Confederations Cup to play the best countries from around the globe. Which is a great dress rehearsal for the World Cup.
So, the stakes are very low for team like the United States, whose main worries are Costa Rica, Panama, and a B-team Mexican side. These low stakes reflect the squad Bruce Arena decided to bring the tournament. 13-of-23 players have less than ten appearances for the United States, and 11 are under the age of 26. The US manager left out captain Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and Christian Pulisic (just to name a few).
Some familiar faces reside in the squad like Brad Guzan and Alejandro Bedoya. However, there is no way to sugar coat the fact that this is an inexperienced squad (I’ll call it a B- or maybe even C+ squad, in terms of player choice). Bruce is trying to find guys to fill his roster for the 2018 World Cup. Some key spots in the normal starting 11 are clashing with Father Time. Midfield workhorse, Jermaine Jones will be 36 come the World Cup. Leading scorer, Clint Dempsey will be 35 and Tim Howard will be 39.
Bruce wants to figure out if Kellyn Acosta can make the next step and become a starter in midfield with Michael Bradley. He wants to find some depth at the striker position, which hurt the US in the last World Cup. Knowing who the No.1 goalkeeper will be for the next year or so will also help. For the most part, he just wants to find guys under 30 that can contribute for the years to come. Every good team has reliable guys that can come in and play when times are tough. Look at Germany, who just won the Confederations Cup with a side that featured mostly young players or back-ups. Not saying we are at that level, but depth is important for any team.
This all sounds like its deviating away from the main point of winning the Gold Cup. Which is the standard for the US every time they compete in the tournament. Only once since 1991 has a team besides the US or Mexico won the cup. Their mindset should be to win Group B, which consists of Panama, Nicaragua, and Martinique (Bonus points if you can find those countries on a globe). Panama is a tough opener, but a win should be expected on home soil. A draw will be just fine, but a win can get the team in the right mindset. Nicaragua (FIFA ranking 105th) should be a win, and Martinique (No FIFA ranking) as well. I’m a person who believes moving beyond the group is all that matters in tournaments, but in this case the US should finish first in the group.
Afterwards, Bruce can make up to six roster changes before the elimination stage of the tournament. I am thinking he will most likely bring in more experienced players. He can choose players from his 40 person preliminary roster, which included a lot of normal faces in the national team. I think veterans like Dempsey, Altidore, and Nagbe will be called in. This can help the Yanks secure a trip to the Gold Cup final (against Mexico, most likely).
As much as I talk about a typical USA vs Mexico match, upsets happens. The 2015 Gold Cup saw the United States get eliminated by Jamaica in the semi finals. As any sport, soccer results do not favor the best team. I personally think upsets are more likely due to the lower amount of scoring compared to other sports. How many NFL games end 7-0? Or NBA games end 2-0? Sometimes goals don’t go in and luck favors the underdog. The average FIFA video game player understands (RIP in peace PS4 controllers).
The USA C+ team (soon to be B team), will make the finals. Will they win? It’s hard to say, my patriotic side favors the United States, but I understand anything can happen. Kellyn Acosta will show his worth and become a routine starter in the midfield. Dom Dwyer will make his case to be a reliable option at striker. Gyasi Zardes, Jordan Morris, and Dax McCarty will stake their claim to be featured in upcoming World Cup qualifiers. This scenario is a perfect world and, as we know, the world is far from perfect.
Next USA match aires Wednesday, July 12th at 9:00 pm ET on FS1, UniMas, and UDN
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