DeAndre Yedlin

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USMNT gets first chance to reassert its CONCACAF status

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Not going to lie to you: It’d be nice to see some vengeance.

No, beating Trinidad and Tobago at the Gold Cup isn’t going to magically put the United States men’s national team back in the 2018 World Cup, nor will it erase nearly two years of seething from the record.

But honestly, you just want to feel like something, anything, is emotionally different in U.S. Soccer from the federation that puked all over the qualifying process for 2018.

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Let’s start here: Regardless of what Michael Bradley says about Saturday night’s match versus Trinidad and Tobago — “I’m not sure inside of the group if it carries a whole lot of weight” — the Yanks should absolutely feel ready to come out firing against the Soca Warriors.

It’s Bradley’s job as a veteran leader to play down tension ahead of the second group stage game of a second-tier tournament, but we’re pretty sure Christian Pulisic isn’t sleeping on the nation whose B-team deprived him of his World Cup. Omar Gonzalez didn’t build himself back up from a terrible own goal in Couva to have this be “just another game.”

Want to send a message within the team, supporters, and CONCACAF that things are different, even if it’s just a preface to a latter tournament trophy-holding novel? Control the game despite the absence of Tyler Adams, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Weah, and possibly Weston McKennie.

Consider the make-up of both 23-man rosters. T&T has seven domestic players, three MLS players, seven USL Championship players, one USL League One player, one in Costa Rica, one in the Israeli Premier League, one playing in Saudi Arabia’s top tier and two in its second tier. The USMNT is comprised of MLS players plus Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Tim Ream (Fulham), and Tyler Boyd (Vitória de Guimarães)

Not to mention Panama outshot T&T 16-4 in a 2-0 win the other night, about the same as the U.S. advantage (20-4; 4-0) over Guyana.

Handle their A-team with your B-plus team.

Take that knowledge and then consider this: As the USSF prepares to anoint a new CEO who may well be hand-picked by the old CEO, reportedly not supported by the new president, and happens to be the USMNT head coach’s brother, wouldn’t it be cool if things felt just a bit like they were on the right track.

The U-20 World Cup helped, as has watching McKennie, Pulisic, and Adams blossom in the Bundesliga.

But we’re mere rounds away from, if we’re fortunate, seeing the first edition of Berhalter’s USMNT against Tata Martino’s Mexico (a Tata Martino, it must be noted, who the USSF didn’t feel the need to contact regarding the possibility of an interview). And we’re days away from a game against a Panama team who took a World Cup spot by scoring a ghost goal.

The losses against Jamaica’s B-team and Venezuela in a vacuum are just bad days at the office, but something fundamentally changed in the spirit of U.S. Soccer that night in Couva. The over-achieving teams of (a few of the) World Cups past gave way to what appeared to be an entitled coach and players failing to prove wrong the wandering mind of a German legend who helped put them in their predicament.

For at least this one night, it’d be great to feel that Couva not only mattered but that it’s put a chip on the shoulder of everyone in U.S. Soccer.

Win decisively, fellas.

Three things from USMNT’s win v. Guyana

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Injuries, early inefficiency, and a newcomer making a statement were the biggest talking points of the United States men’s national team’s first match of the 2019 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Christian Pulisic was back, but not on the score sheet, and was able to be rested over the final half hour or so, and the USMNT scored its 1000th goal in program history.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Beyond that, here’s what we’re thinking after the 4-0 win.

Ouch, ouch, stop that, ouch: Injury worries

Weston McKennie started slow but eventually played a series of sensational passes en route to an assist on the night.

His industry moving forward and backward were remarkable on the night, but Schalke’s Swiss army knife had to leave the match with a leg injury with a quarter hour to play.

That’s a problem for a side which also saw Tyler Boyd pull up following his bid for a hat trick and is also without Tyler Adams, Sebastian Lletget, and Duane Holmes in the midfield alone.

John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also missing from a U.S. side hoping to make a serious bid for another final at the Gold Cup.

Berhalter said the injury that cost McKennie the final 16 minutes was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Tyler Boyd shoots his shot

No, he’s not the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver.

Yes, he’s inspiring a bit of hope for the American Outlaws.

The New Zealand-born 24-year-old likes to shoot, and boy did he in bagging a brace on Wednesday.

Capped five times by New Zealand but now cap-tied to the USMNT by participating in this match, Boyd scored twice and could’ve probably scored two or three more on the day.

The son of an Kiwi father and American mother, Boyd delivered the goods in front of both of them in Minnesota.

“It’s for my family,” Boyd said on Fox after the game. “I’m really proud to be able to represent this country. To do it on this stage is an honor and a blessing. Just a dream come true. It’s been years and years and years of work. It’s been my dream since (I was) a kid. I don’t have the words to describe it.”

Boyd was injured — more on that later — but it looked like it could’ve been minor. His creativity and desire for the ball will be needed moving forward, as he was a fine complement to Paul Arriola in industry and desire.

It still wasn’t good enough

Do not forget that Guyana is the 177th ranked team in the FIFA rankings  — a lofty 166th in EloRatings — and the Yanks simply didn’t have the quality or understanding to pile up the goals.

The Guyanese held the U.S. in check for the first half hour before Weston McKennie and Paul Arriola teamed up for a classy goal, and Bradley’s link up with Tyler Boyd for the second was even better.

But Zardes’ goal was a blocked shot that unknowingly pinged off his pace to the point that the American striker appeared dazed for the duration of the celebration. And Boyd’s good-looking second goal took a turn off a Guyanese defender on the way into the net.

As it stands, this looks like a team that wouldn’t beat Panama and might struggle against anyone should Pulisic go down (and especially if McKennie stays down).

Berhalter names first USMNT Starting XI for Gold Cup

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Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Michael Bradley all start as the United States men’s national team will look a bit more like its best for Tuesday’s Gold Cup opener against Guyana.

The 10 p.m. ET kickoff in Minnesota will see the Yanks without injured Tyler Adams, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, and Sebastian Lletget, but Jozy Altidore has been relegated to the bench — perhaps not fully fit — behind Gyasi Zardes.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores, stats, lineups ]

The back line will see Nick Lima, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, and Tim Ream, while Bradley, McKennie work atop them.

Paul Arriola and Tyler Boyd will be out wide, with Christian Pulisic central underneath Zardes.

The substitutes are Sean Johnson, Tyler Miller, Omar Gonzalez, Wil Trapp, Jordan Morris, Reggie Cannon, Cristian Roldan, Daniel Lovitz, Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Lewis, Matt Miazga, Djordje Mihailovic.

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What counts as Gold Cup success for USMNT?

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The United States men’s national team has the good and bad fortune of playing in CONCACAF, which means it will qualify for every nearly World Cup by showing up and playing within a standard deviation of their average.

The same is true for their chances at making deep runs in the Gold Cup. Since 1985, the Yanks have qualified for 11 of 16 Finals, winning six. Only twice has it finished worse than a third place game appearance, not once since 2000.

[ MORE: U.S. falls in FIFA rankings ]

So that’s why looking like a pile of lukewarm leftovers against Jamaica and Venezuela shouldn’t change perspective on this month’s tournament. Not only are Gregg Berhalter’s men at home, but the path to the final gives them three games to prepare for a true knockout round test and — should they find their footing — two more before meeting Costa Rica or Mexico.

That said, the U.S. may well finish second in the group and get smoked by Honduras or Jamaica in the Round of 16. Falling behind both Panama and Trinidad and Tobago in the group stage would be inexcusable and could see Earnie Stewart canning a coach far earlier than expected, though the reasons utilized would be injuries to Tyler Adams and John Brooks.

However, if the reason is because Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes are starting over healthy Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in meaningful matches, well…

Anyway, let’s deal in potential. This is the best possible XI you could cull from the United States’ roster.

Steffen

Lima — Gonzalez — Miazga — Lovitz

McKennie — Bradley

 Pulisic — Holmes — Boyd

Altidore

This is no mere superiority complex: That team, even with Berhalter’s suspected removal of Holmes, Lovitz, and Boyd to play Arriola, Roldan, and Ream, is enough to crush Guyana and handle T&T en route to a group-deciding match with Panama.

The next round isn’t so simple, which is why finishing a tournament history-worst seventh or eighth isn’t out of the question. Honduras or Jamaica will be a challenge at the back, and both have the horses to press a suspect possession team (Hopefully Bradley will help alleviate those concerns).

Prediction after prediction has the United States in the final. And I think the probability points to that. Losing to Jamaica twice on home soil within a month would be really bad, and neither Honduras nor Panama had better World Cup qualifying runs than the Yanks. Honduras, to its credit, was young, but Panama only finished above the U.S. via a goal that did not cross the line. CONCACAF.

As for the other side of the bracket, even second-choice Mexico is too much for this U.S. team (though anything can happen over 90-120 minutes) and Costa Rica. El Tri will be waiting in the final, even having to work out the kinks under Tata Martino.

My main worry is the depth already being tested in this tournament. In my above lineup, Lima and Holmes is only in because Sebastian Lletget, DeAndre Yedlin, and Tyler Adams are unavailable. And Zardes and Jordan Morris as the back-up options to Altidore at center forward present less attraction than Josh Sargent, Bobby Wood, and even Tim Weah.

The over/under for matches at the Gold Cup is four, with a push being a legit probability for the first time in a while. Under or a push would be a monumental, unavoidable, and inexcusable departure from the plan for 2022 World Cup qualification.

Which way would you bet? Oddsmakers still have the USMNT as the second-favorite to win the whole thing, closer to favorites Mexico than third-best Costa Rica. One site even has El Tri and the U.S. as joint favorites.

That’s something. And adding Pulisic and McKennie is huge. Should we be hesitant because Berhalter’s half-strength Yanks looked terrible against Jamaica and Venezuela? Probably not, but let’s wait until we see the lineups against Guyana and T&T.

Clumsy USMNT falls at home to Jamaica

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Bring on the stars, already.

The United States struggled to assert itself over the majority of a 1-0 home loss to Jamaica on Wednesday, one of two friendlies in the run-up to the Gold Cup.

Shamar Nicholson scored a terrific goal from distance for Jamaica, whose team was superior for most of the evening.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

The Yanks were without Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, and Weston McKennie, as well as Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Those five will be available for the Gold Cup, though John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin will miss the tournament.

Those absences were very much felt, as the Yanks passed as poorly as they have in some time. It improved a bit with some second half substitutions, but not enough to engender hope in the depth of Gregg Berhalter’s squad.

Paul Arriola was active on the right wing very early, and Josh Sargent nearly nodded a cross from the DC United man past Jamaican keeper Andre Blake.

[ MORE: Premier League VAR details ]

Zack Steffen struggled in the first quarter hour, caught out of goal on a long shot from distance that sailed wide and then nearly giving away a goal on a lethargic restart.

Steffen would make a pair of saves, once on an Alvas Powell header and again in the 43rd minute on a rip from well outside the 18.

The second half began with more of the same, the soon-to-be Manchester City property getting low to make a fine parry in the 53rd minute.

The Yanks made a pair of subs, and Jamaica went ahead at the hour mark. Nicholson put Wil Trapp on skates, and then lashed a beauty past Steffen for his first senior goal.

Duane Holmes’ introduction for Cristian Roldan, who was given playmaking duties, helped give the Yanks some life. The same can be said for Jonathan Amon.

Holmes cued up Sargent for a point-blank chance that was diverted wide of the goal. He set up Sargent again in the 88th, and the youngster did well to turn but Blake got a piece of his chopped offering.