By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Jul 6, 2023) US Soccer Players – The 2023 Gold Cup group stage is complete, and the USMNT now knows its path to a second straight championship trophy. That road begins on Sunday at TQL Stadium in downtown Cincinnati (8pm ET – FS1) with a quarterfinals rematch against Canada, the neighbor the US defeated in last month’s Concacaf Nations League final. Here are some areas of focus as the knockout stage of the tournament beckons.
The state of the USMNT
A group that had barely played together before the start of this tournament steadily found its feet in group A. A difficult 1-1 draw with Jamaica was followed by lopsided routs of Saint Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago, stacking up ample goal differential to ensure the top spot in group play that the USMNT has made the norm in recent decades.
“When we talk about getting better, it’s that we have a clear identity on how we want to play. And then it’s the process of how do we get there. And we only had three days of training before the Jamaica game,” said interim head coach BJ Callaghan after the win over Trinidad and Tobago. “It’s about building those connections and just getting in sync with one another. And then the games like tonight brings that out where they’re all sort of moving and working together. And we know it’s about the collective and at the end of the day, you’re able to have a big collective performance.”
As Callaghan quickly noted, the consequences and difficulty level always rise in this next stage. That’s the next challenge for this squad. With a week of training and recovery ahead of Sunday, it feels like the right time to step up to it.
“We wanted to expose as many players as we could to our group stage and how to navigate that. And now we have a week and a buildup to discuss and get the mentality right on how we’re going to handle knockout,” said the coach. “The knockout games, we know the margins are super fine. So we’re going to have to improve and get better in all phases, and be even more, I would say focused and consistent.”
US Soccer announced on Wednesday that midfielder Jackson Yueill has arrived from San Jose Earthquakes to replace the injured Alan Sonora.
The state of the opponent
Canada left it late in the group stage, drawing Guadeloupe and eventual group D winners Guatemala before beating Cuba 4-2 to clinch advancement in 2nd-place. That victory was not exactly simple. Les Rouges had to quell the jitters and surmount extreme heat in Houston to overcome the Caribbean side, while Guatemala did them a favor by beating Guadeloupe at the same time in Harrison, New Jersey.
“It’s been three tough matches here,” said head coach John Herdman. “I’m proud of the lads. I thought to stay in the fight against Guatemala in tough conditions and then to come out here tonight and just get control of the game. We knew if we scored, it was pretty much going to be in our control. and then it was just managing the game, managing the game to ensure we got that game in Cincinnati, which was the target. so we’re excited, I think everyone’s gassed, I don’t think anyone’s got anything left in the tank.”
Like the United States, Canada called in a mix of experienced and new faces, giving some of their European-based stars a chance to rest ahead of the upcoming club season. Veteran Junior Hoilett has been clutch, producing a goal and an assist. Jonathan Osorio brings calm and know-how in central midfield, and rising youngsters Ali Ahmed and Jayden Nelson have been bright spots for a team in need of attacking punch.
Many of the faces who contested the Concacaf Nations League final in Las Vegas are not around this time. Yet there’s no mistaking Canada’s desire, both in the short term and as an aspiring program eager to show it’s on par with the region’s established powers. The US also beat Canada in the last Gold Cup, albeit in the group stage.
“It’s massive, a huge game for us,” said Herdman. “These are the games you want, you want the big games, big matches. I said to this group, the Gold Cup will be about just the massive experiences, growing together. I think we’ve faced a lot of adversity. Cincinnati will be more of that. It will be a hostile crowd again. But I don’t think they’ve got the $180 million on their frontline that they had last time. And we’ve got a hungry group of players that are desperate to get that first win since 1957, so it’s all to play for.”
The state of the bracket
The winner of USMNT vs Canada will advance to San Diego to meet the winner of Saturday’s Panama vs Qatar quarterfinal, two teams who’ve probably exceeded expectations to date.
On the other side of the bracket, Mexico will be heavily favored against a Costa Rica side which hasn’t quite reached the heights of the past. The winner of that game plays either Jamaica or Guatemala, two programs eager to take an already-solid tournament showing to another level.
More from Charles Boehm:
- The USMNT handles Saint Kitts and Nevis as Gold Cup Group A plays out
- Preview: USMNT opens Gold Cup defense against Reggae Boyz
- USMNT extends Mexico streak, prepares for Canada
- Four questions for the 2023 Concacaf Nations League semifinals
Photo by Shaun Clark – ISIPhotos.com