By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jul 26, 2021) US Soccer Players – The Gold Cup has been an experimental affair for the USMNT by design, but this squad of players is showing what mutual belief can accomplish. Over their four games, the USA has worked through the regular issues with the group stage. Some games are closer than most would’ve predicted. Others are under control. All of them are steps toward the final in a competition where the USMNT always expects to compete.
USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has been able to use players at different positions and tinker with formations, both high on the list of objectives this time around. Striker Gyasi Zardes on the wing is something new. Shaq Moore has done very well at right back. Daryl Dike has been fun to watch as part of a new take on the USMNT’s attacking options.
The priority is to win this Gold Cup, experimental as this team is, and the USMNT has slowly improved with each game. Against Jamaica on Sunday night, the Americans found a tough opponent. Perseverance was on the USMNT’s side with a late goal and a semifinal date with Qatar. While it’s easy enough to pencil in another Mexico vs USMNT final, both teams face interesting challenges to make that happen. Here’s a look at Thursday’s two semifinal matchups and what we can expect for the remainder of this Gold Cup.
United States vs Qatar
Following their win over Jamaica in the quarterfinals, the United States faces group D winners Qatar. Concacaf’s invitee had an interesting group stage, beating Honduras on the final matchday to advance as winners. That setup Saturday’s game against group A runner-up El Salvador. Qatar had a 3-0 lead that turned into a 3-2 win, showing how quickly a cushion can turn into difficulty in this tournament.
They now face a USA team that got a late goal from Matthew Hoppe and another win. The USMNT took all nine points in group B, beating a strong Canada side on the final matchday. Close games are now the norm, with the USMNT playing together and getting the result. The Americans have been solid defensively, giving up just one goal in four matches. Offensively, you couldn’t ask for more with nine goals scored so far. Against Qatar, the Americans will need that offense to come through sooner, or else risk falling behind against a team that has a strong attack.
For Qatar, making it to the semifinals of another confederation’s tournament is an additional sign of improvement. They won the Asian Cup for the first time in 2019 and are looking to be the first invited team ever to win the Gold Cup. South Korea, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia have all participated as guest nations before. Brazil reached the final in 1996 and 2003, losing both to Mexico, while Colombia was runners-up to Canada in 2000.
The US has the momentum and home support, factors that could make the difference in such a crucial game, in addition to a young group hungry to show that they can win a trophy. It would be a huge boost for the program, showing what depth can really mean in Concacaf.
Mexico vs Canada
El Tri also hasn’t brought their best team with them. Coach Tata Martino gave some of his stars a break ahead of their domestic seasons in Europe. Meanwhile, veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa is at the Olympics. Mexico has plenty of depth, even if it took longer than expected for it to show.
Mexico looked strong in its 3-0 victory Saturday night against Honduras in the quarterfinals. Rogelio Funes Mori has been the team’s go-to striker at this Gold Cup. With three goals at this tournament, Funes Mori has proven to be both formidable with his head and right foot. Funes Mori has four goals in five appearances for El Tri after making his debut for them earlier this month.
Canada, meanwhile, has also had a strong tournament that is now threatening to shift due to injuries. This team is looking to use the Gold Cup as a springboard for World Cup Qualifying. Striker Cyle Larin and midfielder Stephen Eustaquio have both score three goals apiece as coach John Herdman brought with him a healthy mix of MLS and European-based players to this tournament. Unfortunately, Larin is out along with Ayo Akinola. That didn’t matter in the 2-0 win over Costa Rica on Sunday, but an already under-strengthed Canada is now missing its best attacking option.
What that means against Mexico becomes the question. El Tri’s group opener against Trinidad & Tobago was a surprise 0-0 draw. They beat Guatemala 3-0 and El Salvador 1-0 to take the group, but it wasn’t the dominance most expected. That could make this an interesting game, especially if Canada plays with the kind of collective spirit it showed against Costa Rica. Regrouping from the absence of Larin and picking up the shutout in that game was a substantial positive for that team.
Mexico could end up being too overwhelming and experienced for this Canada side to handle. This will be a crucial test for Canada as they continue to gain experience from these high-pressure matches. Having said all that, it would be a big mistake for El Tri to underestimate this attack-minded Canadian team.
Two competitive semifinals isn’t always a given at the Gold Cup. Should that happen on Thursday, it’s another sign of how far Concacaf have come in recent years and why this tournament continues to be a marker of how the region is producing some exceptional soccer these days.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- The changing role of the full back
- Balancing Gold Cup squads with individual opportunity
- The 4-3-3 at the EUROs and Copa America
- The growing importance of expected goals
Graphic courtesy of Concacaf