The soccer news starts with the USMNT working to avoid ending up part of an underdog story at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. Curacao was the surprise 2nd-place finisher in group B, setting up a quarterfinal meeting with group D winners the United States on Sunday in Philadelphia (8pm ET – FS1). This presents a different challenge for the United States, with no one expecting to see Curacao advance.
Curacao lost their opener 1-0 to El Salvador, beat Honduras 1-0, and drew group winners Jamaica 1-1. Thanks to Honduras shutting out El Salvador 4-0 in their group stage finale, Curacao advanced over El Salvador on goal difference.
What this means for the Americans is a quick study on figuring out what Curacao is getting right at this Gold Cup. They’ve also progressed through a group stage where each game got more difficult. Beating Honduras and not losing to Jamaica is a major statement for a team that went three and out in 2017 with losses to Jamaica, El Salvador, and Mexico. It’s worth pointing out that all three of those 2017 losses were 2-0, with Mexico scoring their second in stoppage time. In the intervening two years, Curacao has figured something out about playing in Concacaf. With that in mind, here’s what we’re looking for at Lincoln Financial Field.
The confidence game
Curacao knows that they can hold a game close. They proved that during the group stage and should be playing with the kind of confidence that comes from quality results. Trailing from the 14th minute in that final group C game against Jamaica, Curacao kept it close. Their equalizer came four minutes into stoppage time, finishing with three shots on goal to Jamaica’s four. Jamaica knew that they needed a win to assure the top spot, keeping Andre Blake in goal behind their regular back line. Curacao’s ability to hold Jamaica to that single goal should be on the minds of the USMNT coaching staff.
USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter surprised people by going all in on his roster shuffle for the final group D game. He changed his entire starting 11 for what turned into a 1-0 win against Panama. That roster included starting Jozy Altidore for the first time at this Gold Cup, with his bicycle kick proving the difference. If you’re Curacao, the big takeaway is that it took a major moment from the obvious source for the USMNT to take that 1-0 win. You’re also well aware that you probably won’t be seeing that lineup in Philadelphia. Berhalter is in an interesting position. It’s not the match up he expected, but he’s still at the point in the tournament where he needs to build a rhythm in the knockout rounds.
The other side of the bracket
What the USMNT and Curacao did in their final group stage games resonates since it’s Jamaica playing Panama on the other side of the bracket. How both teams address this game should carry over into the semifinal. Canada talked about trying not to show too much against Mexico in their final group A game with the expectation they would be playing them again in the semifinals. The USMNT and Panama opting for wholesale changes in their group D finale may have been due to similar thinking. What the USMNT does against Curacao is about controlling their scenario. They’re well aware that it’s Curacao with nothing to lose.
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Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com