By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 28, 2023) US Soccer Players – The USMNT kept itself on track to advance out of Group A of the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup with a hard-fought draw against Jamaica on Saturday. Up next for the United States is Wednesday’s game with Saint Kitts and Nevis (10pm ET – FS1), the tiny island nation that earned its spot in the tournament through success in the C-level of the Concacaf Nations League and a pair of playoff games in Fort Lauderdale last week.
Fort Lauderdale was also the site of the Caribbean island nation’s first-ever Gold Cup group stage match, a 3-0 loss to Trinidad & Tobago to open their group A schedule on Sunday. Heavy rains ahead of the game caused a short delay and a soggy playing surface. Trinidad & Tobago dominated possession but failed to put the game away until after the hour mark. A lucky deflection off of Saint Kitts and Nevis defender Jameel Ible added to the total for the Soca Warriors, who moved to the top of Group A via the win combined with the USA – Jamaica draw in Chicago.
For Saint Kitts & Nevis, their introduction to the Gold Cup may have also given the team experience that could make them stiffer competition in the two remaining group stage matches against the United States and Jamaica. Head coach Austin Huggins believes that to be the case. Following his team’s loss, the coach spoke about his team’s growing confidence ahead of the match against the Americans.
“I know they’re going to come in with the notion that they will beat Saint Kitts and Nevis, but we’re going to be in a good position to create a better challenge and also better to represent ourselves in this game,” he said.
For Huggins, the qualification process just to get to the group stage is a complicating factor. The USMNT, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago began their tournaments with the opening group game. For Saint Kitts & Nevis, the Gold Cup campaign is already two weeks old. When Saint Kitts & Nevis hits the field in St. Louis on Wednesday night, the match will be its fourth in 12 days.
Huggins has juggled his lineup in a few positions through the prelims and the match against Trinidad & Tobago, though there are a handful of players who seem immovable. The key player for Saint Kitts & Nevis is goalkeeper Julani Archibald, the last line of defense against the Americans. Archibald made key saves in the matches against Curacao and French Guiana in the preliminary rounds and stopped three total penalties across the two shootouts.
One of a pair of center backs in a four-man defensive setup is likely to be Andre Burley, a 23-year-old attached to Oxford City of the National League in England. Burley played every minute of Saint Kitts and Nevis’s last three matches, going the full 120 minutes in each preliminary round game.
Burley’s partner in both preliminary round wins was the squad’s leading cap-winner, Gerard Williams. Williams saw yellow in each of those games and was replaced in the lineup against Trinidad & Tobago by Lois Maynard. With Williams reinstated for the match against the United States, Huggins could go back to the tandem that got Saint Kitts and Nevis into the Gold Cup.
Burley was one of two Saint Kitts and Nevis players yellow carded against Trinidad & Tobago and would miss the group stage finale against Jamaica with a yellow card against the United States. Midfielder Raheem Sommersall, who played 214 of an available 240 minutes in the preliminary round and came off in the 73rd minute against Trinidad & Tobago, is the other Saint Kitts & Nevis player carrying a caution.
In the attack, Huggins has used his forwards in various combinations, leaving it open to speculation how he might set up his team against the USMNT. Striker Keithroy Freeman started against Trinidad & Tobago and played 63 minutes. Freeman went the final 32 minutes plus extra time in the win over French Guiana and converted the first of four successful penalties for his team in the shootout.
Carlos Bertie, Tyquanny Williams (the goalscorer against French Guiana), Jacob Hazel, Ronaldo Belgrove, and Rowan Liburd have all played a role in the three games, with Huggins working to keep fresh legs on the field whenever possible.
Saint Kitts & Nevis will face a USMNT without the issue of fatigue and boasting a deep roster for head coach BJ Callaghan to choose from. “We’re confident against any opponent. We want to press, we want to dominate with the ball, and we believe if we execute at a high level the goals will come,” Callaghan told reporters on Tuesday.
Jesus Ferreira started at center forward against Jamaica and shifted to a wide position late in the game with substitute Vaquez on the field. Ferreira was flanked by Alex Zendejas and Jordan Morris to start the match. Callaghan confirmed on Tuesday that Morris’s knee injury will keep him out of the match on Wednesday night in St Louis.
Callaghan can also turn to Cade Cowell and Djordje Mihailovic, two players who entered the game off the bench on Saturday. Gianluca Busio did not play against Jamaica and is available to slot into the midfield to provide distribution and ball retention.
At the back, Miles Robinson is again available after missing the Nations League final and the match against Jamaica due to an injury. Robinson’s return bolsters a group that included Matt Miazga (90 minutes against Jamaica), Aaron Long (fit to play after coming off at halftime in the group opener), and Jalen Neal (a halftime substitute on Saturday).
Miazga made the US mindset clear on Tuesday. “It’s cliche to say, but there’s no easy game in football,” he told reporters. “You have to be fully focused for every game, it’s happened to me in the past where you’re expected to win but you don’t have the right focus.”
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
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Photo by Concacaf.com