Saturday at 5:00 p.m. ET in East Hartford, CT the US Men’s National Team will get its final chance to mesh ahead of the 2017 Gold Cup as they take on Ghana in a pre-tournament friendly.
The United States features a young and inexperienced squad for at least the tournament’s group stage, devoid of many national team staples like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and even Christian Pulisic. Thus, this match against Ghana will be an important step for the team to not just experiment but play together as they look towards the competitive games.
Ghana and the US have an intense rivalry – if you can call it that with just five matches between them in recent history. Nevertheless, three of those five games have been of significant importance, and that has stoked the fire between the two nations.
Particularly painful for the current United States manager is the loss to Ghana in the 2006 World Cup that sealed Bruce Arena’s fate in his first stint as national team coach. Again, the US was eliminated by the African nation in the 2010 World Cup, an extra-time defeat in the knockout round, with Asamoah Gyan’s 93rd-minute winner breaking the US’s hearts.
In the 2014 World Cup, the US got revenge, beating Ghana 2-1 in the opening group stage match to help Jurgen Klinsmann escape the Group of death. It was the only victory for the United States in the competition. That defeat for Ghana saw the end of Kwesi Appiah‘s managerial tenure, but he’s back for a second go and will take charge on Saturday.
Now, after years of World Cup battles, Ghana may be able to help their CONCACAF opponents in their first-ever friendly matchup. With Arena hoping to work in a number of fringe players alongside youthful counterparts looking to break into a more prominent role, Ghana’s presence could be of long-term benefit to the US instead of a thorn in the side.
At Arena’s disposal are both well-known players looking to reignite their national team flame, and lesser-known fringe options hoping to boost their stock. The most significant of the former include Matt Miazga who can help make a push towards his high ceiling, and Juan Agudelo who is looking to play his first competitive minutes since 2011 in what to this point has been a career underperformance. Jordan Morris could use a bright tournament as well, having fallen down the striker pecking order thanks in large part to the emergence of Bobby Wood.
Highlighting those looking to become household names is Cristian Roldan, the promising young Seattle Sounders midfielder who could potentially pair with Kellyn Acosta for years to come. Alongside him is Dom Dwyer who has waited a lifetime for his chance on the national team, and now gets that with the tournament calling his name. Finally, defender Matt Hedges has another shot after a knee injury in January camp derailed his first shot at seeing USMNT time.
The Gold Cup will provide all these men and more with the opportunity to push for a spot on the first-team roster with the World Cup just around the corner, but first the tuneup against Ghana will be a litmus test for what is to come in the next month. Look for Anderlecht winger Frank Acheampong to lead the creative attack, most notably on the counter, and Gyan is still a leader for his nation up front.