After you have awoken from your drunken euphoria of celebrating the United States winning the 2015 Women's World Cup you're going to come to the amazing realization that there's even more soccer to consume this summer. The USMNT are about to embark on an important tournament of their own. While the CONCACAF Gold Cup might not be as glamorous as a World Cup, it is still hugely important for U.S. Soccer.
If the USA come out of the Gold Cup victorious they will book their ticket to the 2017 Confederations Cup. If they slip up and let Mexico, Costa Rica, or anyone else win they'll be forced to play a playoff with the winner for a trip to Russia and great warm-up for a World Cup.
Honduras is the first hurdle the U.S. must leap over to reach their goal of winning the tournament. "Los Catrachos" are always a tricky opposition in CONCACAF play. They'll never be feared on the world stage, but they're always a thorn in the sides of better teams. Mexico will attest to this fact as they were held to a scoreless draw by Honduras in a pre-tournament friendly last week.
Jurgen Klinsmann's side are coming off of four straight friendly wins in preparation for this vital tournament. Last Friday's 4-0 victory over Guatemala gave us the best hints of what to expect from the U.S. in the Gold Cup. The scoreline appears dominant, and attacking-wise it was, but Guatemala missed two easy goals and created a few other chances. Against better opposition the overall performance might have been exposed. Nevertheless, the Americans head into Tuesday's game with optimism and momentum on their side. Here is what you should be looking for in the Gold Cup opener:
Winning the wings
The USA's success against Guatemala came from dominating the wings. In the first half it was DeAndre Yedlin constantly breaking free down the right side and getting crosses in. His great play resulted in an own goal to open the scoring for the Yanks. In the second half when Gyasi Zardes replaced the struggling Graham Zusi, they controlled both wings and found the attacking space to tack on three more goals, all of which came from good wing play.
It remains to be seen who exactly will get the start on each wing against Honduras. Zusi had an awful game on Friday, so it would be a shock to see him in there again. Gyasi Zardes' brilliant second half performance could very well have earned him one of the starting spots. Yedlin did nothing to hurt his chances either. Alejando Bedoya would be an obvious choice, but Klinsmann has stated that he has to regain fitness before being able to play in the Gold Cup. Mix Diskerud could be another option if they want to maintain possession while forfeiting some dynamism.
Solidifying the back line
The center back tandem of John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez appear to be Klinsmann's first-choice pairing at the back. The duo had a good performance on Friday without any glaring mistakes. Fabian Johnson and Timothy Chandler took up the fullback spots and did an adequate job as well both attacking and defending. This back line allowed a few dangerous chances, but as time goes on and a consistent lineup is hopefully settled on, they will gain the chemistry needed to avoid those mistakes.
The Deuce is too loose
Clint Dempsey is a tactical nightmare for his coaches. He's a player that loves to have the ball at his feet anywhere on the field. So when he's asked to partner Jozy Altidore up top and he spends his time dropping into the midfield and wandering out to the wing, it leaves Altidore isolated and by himself. If the pairing is going to have success, Dempsey needs to be more disciplined in his positioning and movement. He needs to be able to link up with Altidore and leave the playmaking aspect to his midfielders.
As we close we leave you with a PSA. Remember that this is CONCACAF and things aren't going to be pretty. If you're expecting the USA to go out and dominate every match for 90 minutes and score five goals a game then you are setting yourself up for major disappointment. Beating the likes of Germany and the Netherlands means nothing in the Gold Cup. The play will be dirty, clogged up, and downright frustrating at times. Just remember that it's not always going to be a joy to watch, but don't overreact to a bad spell of play or a tough half.
Here is the lineup I'd like to see against Honduras: