By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (June 17, 2019) US Soccer Players – The United States enters the 2019 Gold Cup knowing that it faces a tricky group stage against a trio of teams that will try to pull off an upset. The USMNT is also very familiar with two of those three teams, Trinidad & Tobago and Panama, giving the Americans a scouting edge ahead of their first game.
“I think we have a great and challenging group,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said when the groups were announced in April. “When you prepare yourself to get through a difficult group like this, it sets you up for good things to come.”
Those good things to come can very well result in reaching the July 7 final at Chicago’s Soldier Field. For the Americans to advance out of the group, they'll need results against two Caribbean nations with similar playing styles and a Central American one that has traditionally given them trouble at this competition.
The US opens the group with its first meeting ever against Guyana on Tuesday night at Allianz Field in Saint Paul. Following that, the Americans travel east to play Trinidad and Tobago on June 22 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. They close out group play versus Panama four days later at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.
Here is a tactical guide to the USMNT’s opponents and what players to watch for:
Overall: The weakest of its three opponents, Guyana is the type of pesky adversary the Americans will want to dominate early in order to send a message to the rest of the group. To do that, they will need to overcome several obstacles. The Golden Jaguars, coached by former Birmingham City and Derby County defender Michael Johnson, will be playing in their first Gold Cup ever. Johnson has said his side are underdogs, but “we thrive on that.”
Tactics: Johnson likes to use a 4-2-3-1 formation and has compiled a 2-2-1 record over five matches since taking over as coach last year. On the field, Guyana likes to build up momentum from the back and use the long ball and the wings to create scoring chances. This style is familiar to fans of lower division English soccer, with 11 of the 23 players on the roster from clubs in those leagues.
MLS connection: There are some players with experience in MLS. They include FC Cincinnati striker Emery Welshman who is currently on loan in Canada with Forge FC and Philadelphia Union midfielder Warren Creavalle. Despite those talents, Guyana overall can’t easily make up the talent gap that currently exists between them and the USMNT.
Trinidad and Tobago
Overall: Trinidad and Tobago is a team the USMNT know extremely well. The Soca Warriors have been using a 4-1-4-1 formation under manager Dennis Lawrence, who has coached the side since 2017. This gives the team compactness in the back and plenty of offensive options. The USMNT knows T&T can pull off an upset, but there are some real concerns that this summer’s roster lacks the depth to do well at this Gold Cup.
Tactics: Like Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago has lots of soccer connections to England. Although none of their players are currently on a Premier League team, Lawrence did play for Wrexham, Swansea, and Crewe Alexandra at various tiers. He also served as an assistant to Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic in 2010 and subsequently joined him at Everton. As a result, Lawrence likes to play wide and use wingbacks in the attack.
MLS connection: There are a pair of midfielders from MLS, Seattle's Joevin Jones and Minnesota United’s Kevin Molino. Both should be in the starting lineup. This gives the MLS players on the US team plenty of familiarity with this opponent.
Overall: The Central Americans are a Gold Cup regular. Los Canaleros will make their eighth straight appearance this summer, and their ninth overall. They have qualified for the knockout stage the last eight times and reached the final twice in 2005 and 2013. The USMNT got the better of them in both those games.
Tactics: Under coach Julio Dely Valdes, hired earlier this year following a previous three-year stint that ended in 2013, Panama is a team constantly in search of tactical discipline. The squad is a mix of young and old with several familiar faces to US fans. The midfield lynchpin is Anibal Godoy of the San Jose Earthquakes. Valdes’ 5-4-1 formation revolves around Godoy. Panama has a tough backline. In a friendly this past March, that strong defense allowed Panama to play Brazil to a 1-1 draw.
MLS connection: Aside from Godoy, there are three MLS-based defenders on the team: Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls) and Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders). Panama is no stranger to Gold Cup upsets. They defeated the US in the first round of the 2011 edition and Mexico just two years later at the same stage.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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Graphic courtesy of Concacaf