Nicaragua is technically the home team in the Group B finale against the USMNT on Saturday (7pm ET - FXX and Univision). That's probably not much of an advantage at an NFL stadium in Cleveland. The USMNT sits top of the Group B table on a tiebreaker over Panama, looking to enter the knockout round as group winners. That sets up a game in Philadelphia against the 3rd-place finisher from group A or C and likely a more familiar opponent than two out of the three teams the USMNT played in the group stage.
Focus on the Schedule
As we all know due to the constant reminders on air and on screens, the USMNT chose to approach this tournament as an experiment. It's not the first time the USMNT decided to treat the odd-cycle Gold Cup this way. Opting to test the depth of the roster is a hallmark of the Gold Cup once CONCACAF decided to make it every other year. Some Gold Cups count. Some not quite so much. For the USMNT, that means games on the schedule, working through the scenarios match by match. That's already led to substantial criticism, with the USMNT not dictating their games in group B against overmatched opponents. That might not be completely fair to the squad considering their unfamiliarity with each other and the lack of a spine of established veteran players. Still, this is the situation and the scenario the coaching staff chose.
Focus on Nicaragua
It's tough to preview CONCACAF minnows, especially ones that haven't played the USMNT before. There's the tendency to go too far in either direction. It might not be a total mismatch, but it's also not a meeting of equals. The expectation for the USMNT is the same as it was against Martinique. They should control the game from the opening whistle, forcing Nicaragua to either respond or resort to a bunker defense. If Nicaragua does bunker, the USMNT should show they can break that down with superior positional play.
The CONCACAF Doubleheader
CONCACAF isn't interested in FIFA's standard practice of playing the group stage finales at the same time. FIFA wasn't either until collusion at World Cup level forced them to. Nobody is suggesting that CONCACAF countries will look at what happened in the early game and act in their own best interest should a lackluster draw favor both teams. Still, CONCACAF's insistence on the doubleheader model certainly allows for more knowledge if you're the teams playing second. The USMNT will know what they'll need to do to keep first-place while Nicaragua will know if they've still got a chance at the knockout round. You can create multiple scenarios for what might happen based on that information, but it's an advantage for both teams.
What to take from Group B
There's the feeling that this is a week's worth of discontent that all involved will forget as soon as the games count more in the knockout stage. Fair enough, considering the level of competition we're talking about here. There's no CONCACAF team still in contention for a World Cup spot pushing this summer's Gold Cup as the height of their competitive calendar. There's also no reason to treat this tournament that seriously. That might push against a competitive ideal, but this is more about CONCACAF making a decision. They wanted the Gold Cup every other year, and this is the real cost for that. In off years, national teams will treat the tournament accordingly. The group stage falls into the same category. Take it as seriously as you want, but there's an obvious result here.