The recent friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela have shown that the United States Men’s National Team is very much a work in progress. As Adnan pointed out these matches, and the one against Chile back in March, were harder for the team than the games against Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador because Jamaica and Venezuela actually wanted the ball - especially Venezuela. As far as drawing conclusions from friendlies, these matches have shown that the US will struggle to do the thing that is absolutely critical in the possession based system that Gregg Berhalter wants to implement - namely, possess the ball.
What may be more concerning is the way the US played against Venezuela especially compared to how el Vino Tinto was completely demolished by Mexico. Again, it was a friendly, but an El Tri team missing nearly all of its best players crushed a side that the US could barely challenge. The US should be expected to reach the final if not win the competition. Should it get that far, it will face a Mexico side that has a contrasting style based on creating chaos compared to Berhalter’s more controlled approach. Given how the team has played in recent friendlies, it will be interesting to see if the MNT is up for the challenge and if it can figure out the problems that have been exposed in the lead up to the tournament.
Opening against a minnow
The USMNT heads into the Gold Cup with a chance to win its first competitive match since failing to qualify for the World Cup nearly two years ago. In many ways, the group is set up with an ideal way for the team to grow into the competition. Guyana offers a soft opponent for the Stars and Stripes to work out some of the issues that it dealt with in friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela. The following games ratchet up the difficulty some with Trinidad & Tobago and Panama. It is not an easy group, but should be one that the team can win. This is more or less an ideal schedule and if the US manages to win the group it will be in position to face either Jamaica or Honduras unless El Salvador or Curacao surprises them - and El Salvador may very well do that.
As far as what to expect in the game out of the US, the team should have plenty of the ball. Guyana is not a good soccer team and is missing its best player with Philadelphia Union midfielder Warren Creavalle injured and will probably either bunker by choice or be pinned back by the US throughout the match. Given that, the hosts will need to breakdown the defensive minded Guyana side. What will be interesting to watch is if the team can do it with technique and tactics or is forced to resort to mindless crosses for 90 minutes.
Weaker Concacaf teams have caused the US problems in the tournament before by doing just enough to disrupt the timing of runs through the box and cut of passing lanes for through-balls. If the US can connect on those passes in the limited space Guyana gives them, it will be a good sign heading into matches against teams with better and more organized defenses. If they don’t and the result is a lot of hopeful crosses, the concerns about the team that emerged against Jamaica and Venezuela will be that much worse.
A mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in something I don’t know much about
I’ll admit - I have never watched the Golden Jaguars play soccer, at least that I remember. But we can make some assumptions about the team. They will either play defensively or if they try to open up the game probably get destroyed. Still, Guyana is in the tournament and did demolish the other international team that was led by an American soccer coach on their way to qualifying. That came back in October when Guyana beat the Matt Barnes managed Turks and Caicos 8-0. So they do have experience crushing a team led by an American manager.
That said, Guyana features a roster that is mainly made up of players toiling away in the lower leagues of the UK and Concacaf. If they manage to stay compact and organized, they may force the US to just fling crosses into the goal area and hope they can hit a long ball and steal a goal on the counter. It will be a huge accomplishment and a giant shock for the team if they can manage a draw and a more realistic goal may just be not getting blown out.
Come home Konrad, the New England Revolution need you
The MNT struggles contrast with the recent success of the U-20s... well relative success. The team had a solid showing in the World Cup but couldn’t turn the corner and had an overall disappointing performance against eventual 3rd place winners Ecuador. I can’t help but think that the team was capable of more in the tournament... if only there was a way for them to play consistently in a first division...
Can I be US Soccer general manager now?
The best is yet to come... or it isn’t
A lot has been said about the squad that Berhalter has selected for the tournament. There is no Tyler Adams because of a nagging injury and Duane Holmes is dealing with his own problem staying healthy. But the future seems like it could be getting brighter. The players on the U-20 roster seem eager to test themselves more than the last generation of Americans who were content with college degrees and MLS contracts. This is obviously a positive step for the yoots and it seems like the talent is emerging to take the US back to where it was in 2002 when it won more than one game in the World Cup. It seems like the missing piece is the tactics to put it all together. Hopefully Berhalter is the man for the job and this is a work in progress and not another misstep that the USMNT can ill-afford. The game against Guyana won’t determine if the side will be a success or not in years to come, but a good showing and a performance that it can build upon as the tournament progresses will be crucial as the team continues to try to compete at a higher level internationally.