The USMNT's Gold Cup opener raised several questions, the polite way of saying that a 1-1 draw with Panama wasn't the expected result. The USMNT opened strong, showing the kind of sync in the attack from a week earlier in a friendly against Ghana. That didn't translate into goals, with Panama building confidence as they got several good looks from their offense.
Once again, it was Dom Dwyer showing what this version of the USMNT can do. His 50th minute goal didn't put Panama on the back foot. Instead, they pushed for an equalizer and got it. From there, the game turned into issues for both teams. The USMNT couldn't get the momentum for a go-ahead goal and at times Panama seemed fine with playing for the point.
Both teams regroup in Tampa on Wednesday night. Panama opens the doubleheader at 6:30pm with the USMNT vs Martinique game following at 8:30pm. Both are on FS1. Both teams will be looking to put four points at the top of the table.
One problem with the group favorites playing each other in the opening game is the balance of group B. More to the point, it's the imbalance. It doesn't take a working knowledge of CONCACAF to look at that group and see Panama and the USMNT easily advancing. The only real question is in what order. Martinique and Nicaragua might realistically be playing for 3rd-place, but who wouldn't be happy to take advantage should a favorite slip?
For the USMNT, there's also getting this squad together in time for those knockout round games. As every preview before and during the Gold Cup can't help but stress, there's a disconnect between playing Martinique and Nicaragua and then turning to a bigger challenge in the knockout round. Given the state of play in CONCACAF, stressing the quarterfinals might also be a bit of a reach. The winner of group B plays a 3rd-place team from either group A or C. It's as unlikely that the favorites in those groups slip as it is in group B.
Right now, the USMNT has no choice but to play the schedule in front of them. That means treating Martinique, entering the game with three points to the USMNT's one, with all due respect. As a confidence builder for this version of the USMNT, showing their offense works is key.
Should Martinique bunker, this version of the USMNT needs to show how they can break that down. If Martinique plays a more flowing style, the USMNT needs to show that they can make the necessary stops while demonstrating that was a bad idea.
It doesn't take advanced stat work to predict it's going to be a bunker from Martinique. They're overmatched in this game, something that doesn't require comparative geography, population size, and international soccer success to show. Does this mean a win for the USMNT needs to be more than three points in the group B table? Does it mean not just focusing on the win but goal difference? Maybe, but that kind of thinking can drift into nothing being quite good enough.
What the USMNT needs on Wednesday night in Tampa is a showing of control. They dictate the game, creating opportunities and taking advantage. That doesn't have to happen over the full 90 minutes to make the point.