Who: USMNT vs Panama
When: Wednesday @ 9:30 pm ET
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville TN
Line: USA -200 | Draw +255 | Curacao +600
The elimination of the Confederation Cup has caused some to question the point of the Gold Cup.
Yes, there is the crowning of a CONCACAF champion. And sure, testing your team against your neighbors can be worthwhile. However, without the carrot of the Confederation Cup and the chance to face off against the top dogs from UEFA, CONEMBOL and the rest, the value of the Gold Cup remains an open question.
But for a USMNT seeking to rebuild its credibility within the region as well with its jaundiced fan-base under new coach Gregg Berhalter, the Gold Cup seemed like a perfect opportunity.
These are official matches, they count. No more attempting to parse meaning from the series of increasingly meaningless friendlies presided over by caretaker coach Dave Sarachan.
Then the games began. Wins of 4-0 versus Guyana and 6-0 over Trinidad and Tobago, as well as a 1-0 win with a brand new 11 against Panama claimed the group stage for the U.S. This set up a showdown with the tiny constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Curacao.
The U.S. barely escaped with a 1-0 win over Curacao, with the six-time Gold Cup-winning United States apparently happy to bunker in against the 79th rated FIFA ranked nation.
Berhalter defensive of team’s performance
The US’ showing against Curacao doesn’t necessarily bode well for their chances in Wednesday night’s semifinal match-up against Jamaica. Yes, like all U.S. Gold Cup games, the semifinal will be a home game, this one in Nashville.
Berhalter had something of a thin-skinned reaction to Sunday’s narrow escape, telling the gathered press post-game, “Despite the tone in here, we’re happy with the result of this game and that should be said, I’m proud of the guys for their effort and now we move on to Nashville.”
A win is a win but one hopes Berhalter’s pride in that performance doesn’t translate to acceptance of that level of play because if it does there will be little chance of the Americas advancing to the hoped-for showdown with Mexico in Sunday’s God Cup FInal in Chicago.
Hopefully, Behalter’s pride in his team’s effort does not hamper the coach’s willingness to shake up his lineup, limited though his roster options may be.
Continuity for continuity’s sake?
Berhalter has used the same 11 in three of the team’s four matches. The early, easy wins and the struggle versus Curacao all featured the same starters. Other than Christian Pulisic, goal scorer Weston McKennie, Man of the Match Zack Steffen in goal and defender Walker Zimmerman, none of that 11 distinguished themselves versus Curacao. Of the “second 11” that beat Panama 1-0, I can only recall center back Matt Miazga and fullback Reggie Cannon showing anything.
So, what now? Every coach has a player or two that he values despite howls of protest from the peanut gallery. Bob Bradley’s Jonathan Bornstein obsession comes to mind. For Berhalter, Gyasi Zardes is developing into that player, while Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream have potential.
Jozy Altidore has been recovering from injury but by all official accounts, the TFC man has recovered. “He fits Berhalter’s system,” we hear. Altidore is better. Start him.
Ream is a center back, not a fullback and Nick Lima, who was poor against Curacao, regularly plays left-back for his club team. Play Cannon on the right and Lima on the left.
Further up the pitch, Berhalter’s options are limited. He has to stay with Michael Bradley, even if his diminishing speed is an issue because he is a far better option than Wil Trapp.
Tyler Boyd was a sensation with a brace versus Guyana but has failed to fire since. Jordan Morris provided a spark off the bench against T&T but little after. Play either, the difference appears negligible.
Paul Arriola looked to have added some final product to his otherwise well-rounded game but he was invisible versus Curacao. Berhalter is likely to start him against Jamaica because Jonathan Lewis is better suited as an off the bench option.
Jamaica drew 1-1 with Curacao in Group play and lost to the same team in the Carribean Cup. But Jamaica beat the U.S. in pre-Cup friendly and more importantly the Reggae Boyz also defeated the Americans 2-1 in the semifinal of the 2015 Gold Cup, so Jamaica will show the U.S. no fear.
This Gold Cup is a measuring stick for the USMNT, both internally and externally. At the moment the internal group, Berhalter essentially, seems to judge this group to be a success, while outside forces, the press, the public, are less enthused.
The final report card for the U.S. at the Gold Cup will be issued when the home team’s participation concludes. At the moment looks like a C+, perhaps, but there remains time for improvement before the term concludes.