Many of the familiar faces aren’t with the USMNT for the group stage of this summer’s Gold Cup, but that shouldn’t stop Bruce Arena’s Yanks from making a run deep into the knockout rounds.
Either the U.S. or Mexico has won 12 of the 13 Gold Cups, but both are sending B-sides to this edition in moves that have sides like Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras hoping to make a memory.
It’s not like Arena nor suspended Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio have selected chopped liver in uniform for the group stages, but the list of who won’t be wearing red, white, and blue for the Yanks is a who’s who: Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Tim Howard. The list goes on.
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That does open up the door to so many players, though, some familiar and others not. What do the Yanks need to do to make a deep run?
1) Get off on the right foot (and arrive at the quarters) — The U.S. will progress to the knockout rounds even with a stumble out of the gates against Panama on Saturday in Nashville, but winning Group B is a huge boon to those who fear Mexico’s B-side more than Costa Rica.
The Group B winners could not face the winners or runners-up of Group C — Mexico’s group — until the Final. Even if Mexico faltered big time in group play, El Tri will likely still finish in one of the top two spots. Beating Panama essentially ensures nine points and no worries about a goal differential problem from Los Canaleros.
So, yeah, the U.S. will make the quarters, when any of its roster flaws can be corrected by any number of top assets.
2) Find your central steel — Without Brooks, Cameron, and Bradley, the heart of the defense is a bit of an unknown. Seeing as a successful Yanks run would eventually need to deal with either Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell or Mexico’s Erick Gutierrez or Erick Torres, sorting it out quickly is important.
Arena will be tempted to lean on World Cup veteran and long time LA Galaxy buddy Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler has the experience to get the job done as well. But wild cards Matt Hedges and Matt Miazga present different styles of defense and either is four inches taller than Besler, who has been pretty great for Sporting KC this season.
On top of the center backs will likely be Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta, or perhaps Cristian Roldan in a pinch. Again, the skills are there and Acosta will likely be a USMNT player for a long, long time, but he’s still young as we saw when he made a pair of rookie mistakes on Mexico’s equalizer in the last World Cup qualifier at Azteca.
3) Finish chances early — This one’s simple and sweet: Buses will be parked by all three Gold Cup group stage foes, and it’s incumbent upon forwards Dom Dwyer, Jordan Morris, and Juan Agudelo to make sure the might of the Americans is felt within the opening throes of each match. For all of the above concerns with central steel, the absence of Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Pulisic from the substitutes could cause nerves for the attack if it stays 0-0 for too long.