The 2017 Gold Cup group stage continues tomorrow for the United States, as they take on the French island Martinique at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. For the USMNT, this is a chance to try for their first victory in the Gold Cup in the hopes of climbing into solid position to advance out of the group. Winning the group is important, as it will likely mean not seeing Costa Rica or Mexico until the semifinals. A loss here would mean disaster for the USMNT, as they would then need to win and get help to place 2nd in the group.
In their way stands Martinique, the current leaders of Group B. Yes, I typed that correctly and you read it right: Martinique, the 2-0 winners over Nicaragua on Saturday, are leading the pack, with Panama and the USMNT sitting tied for second. Bruce Arena will be searching for ways to put out a lineup that will not wilt in the late night heat in Tampa and send many balls into the back of the net in an effort to gain some goal differential ground on Panama.
D (1-1) - Panama – Gold Cup Group B
W (2-1) - Ghana - Friendly
D (1-1) - Mexico - WCQ
W (2-0) - Trinidad and Tobago - WCQ
D (1-1) - Venezuela - Friendly
W (2-0) – Nicaragua – Gold Cup Group B
L (0-1) – French Guyana – Caribbean Cup
L (1-2) – Curaçao – Caribbean Cup
W (2-0) – Trinidad and Tobago – Caribbean Cup
W (2-1) – Dominican Republic – Caribbean Cup
What to Watch for
Ch-ch-chaaanges: Bruce Arena has switched up his lineup several times over the past few matches, and so far, he’s kept that theme going. With so many matches in the span of a couple weeks, in incredibly hot weather, he is opting for fresh legs and making sure his players are good to go. Tampa, even with the late start, will be super hot and humid, so expect more changes in the lineup to hopefully allow the team to not be bogged down by tired legs.
Possession in the middle: Too many times against Panama, the USMNT midfield turned the ball over and failed to keep possession to spark a scoring chance. That can’t happen against Martinique, who will seek to counter and tire out the defense. Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty have been the two in the middle that have been Arena’s preferred duo, and if that continues tomorrow, they will need to keep possession and feed the attack while also tracking back better on defense to relieve the pressure on the back line and Brad Guzan.
Energy: With this being the 3rd match that will see the USMNT in hot and humid weather, energy will be a factor. Martinique will have it. They want to show CONCACAF and the world that their victory over Nicaragua was no fluke and that they can compete with the best in the region. The USMNT will need to feed off each other and the crowd to match the intensity that Martinique will bring. They understand what needs to happen and they will have to work hard to achieve it. Forget everything else…if they can bring the noise and the ruckus on the field, this match will be a much more soothing affair for the USMNT and its diehard fans.
There will be some changes to the lineup, but the best guess is Bruce Arena goes with most of the guys he can trust to get the full 3 points out of this match:
In goal, Brad Guzan will be the guy once again. The goal that Panama scored on Saturday wasn’t his fault, and he’s played pretty well over the past couple matches. He will be ready to go against Martinique. Arena will likely return to a 4-4-1-1 style formation with Jorge Villafana, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges and Graham Zusi on the back. He’s been cycling through all his players and while I think Matt Besler would be the best pairing alongside Hedges, my thought is Arena will turn to Gonzalez.
In the middle, Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty continue to be the preferred pairing, and Kelyn Rowe will be the man on the left. I don’t think Alejandro Bedoya is the best guy to be in the 11, but as he was the captain Saturday, he clearly has won the trust of Bruce Arena and will be out there on the right. In the middle as an attack mid, I think this is the match that Cristian Roldan gets a chance to show what he can do, and against a team with fresher legs, you want someone like Roldan providing a spark.
Up top, no surprises here: Dom Dwyer has impressed in his first two caps, scoring goals in each of them. We need a lot of goals and I think this will be the day that Dom Dwyer breaks out for real. Look for players like Jordan Morris, Justin Morrow and Chris Pontius to get some run as well as the three subs.
Ok, this prediction is pretty bold, but I think we need a bold response. The players know that they need to put a ton of goals on the scoreboard to create some breathing room and place a firm grip on a spot in the quarterfinals. I think they respond in kind with an electric show in the Sunshine State. Call it 7-0 USA, with a Dom Dwyer hat trick and goals by Morris, Roldan, Rowe and Acosta.
Give your picks in the comments below!