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USA vs. El Salvador, 2017 Gold Cup: What to watch for

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The knockout stage is here. What can we expect from the USMNT tomorrow?

Welcome to crunch time. The United States continue in the 2017 Gold Cup tomorrow in Philadelphia as they take on El Salvador in the quarterfinals. For the USMNT, they have brought in reinforcements in an effort to take the trophy. To do that, the team will need to eliminate the mistakes and inconsistency that has plagued them thus far in the tournament in leading to a shaky time in the group stage.

Standing between them and a semifinal berth in Arlington, Texas: El Salvador. They play quick and calculated, but they emerged as the 3rd place team in Group C with an inconsistent run of their own. Still, they have the chops to pull off the upset. Nelson Bonilla has had a great tournament thus far with a couple goals, and they’ve received goals from Gerson Mayen and Rodolfo Zelaya as well. If the USMNT remains inconsistent, El Salvador can give them a run for their money.

Recent Form

USA

W (3-0) – Nicaragua – Gold Cup Group B

W (3-2) – Martinique – Gold Cup Group B

D (1-1) - Panama – Gold Cup Group B

W (2-1) - Ghana - Friendly

D (1-1) - Mexico - WCQ

El Salvador

D (1-1) – Jamaica – Gold Cup Group C

W (2-0) – Curaçao – Gold Cup Group C

L (1-3) – Mexico – Gold Cup Group C

L (0-3) – Ecuador - Friendly

D (2-2) – Honduras - Friendly

What to Watch for

The boys are back: Bruce Arena has many of the MLS-based A team regulars at his disposal for this match and it will show. They will have the best players on the field, and those guys need to show why they are out there. There should be no lack of focus or playing down to El Salvador. The big guns need to go right at the heart of the Salvadorean defense and leave no doubt who will be advancing to the semifinal.

Control the middle: The midfielders will have to do an excellent job controlling possession and dictating the pace. Consistent possession has been lacking during the group stage, and it’s something that we should absolutely own tomorrow night. A renewed focus on possession will allow our players to set the tempo and will create all the scoring chances in the world.

Finish chances at the net: This will be a match where the USMNT will get plenty of scoring chances. Our forwards need to put balls in the net (you’re thinking duh, of course…but it’s been a struggle for us lately). We’re going to get our opportunities in this match and when we do, the USMNT must take advantage. In other words, crush all Salvadorean dreams before they start, and putting points on the board is the best way to achieve that.

Lineup Prediction

You don’t bring in the heavy hitters and not play them. After tinkering with the lineup throughout each of the group stage matches, my best guess is that Bruce Arena aligns his lineup as he would if this was the Gold Cup final. He’s got a ton of fresh legs and he’s about to use them.

Starting in goal, to no one’s surprise, is Tim Howard. He’s our #1 and he’s rested and ready to go. Our back line has been the major question mark before each match, and I think he now goes with what he feels are his best defenders. While I don’t necessary agree with some of it, that means a defensive foursome of Jorge Villafana, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj. Though, don’t be surprised if it’s Graham Zusi at right back instead of Lichaj. Maybe (hopefully), Arena sits Zusi to let Lichaj get some time.

In the middle, salute the captain, because he’s back and ready to control the field. Michael Bradley will man the middle with Kellyn Acosta, and Arena goes with Paul Arriola and Darlington Nagbe on the wings. Nagbe will bring the speed and he’s got the offensive potency we need. Up front, you know the names. Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey will be our pairing and counted on to put some soccer balls in the back of the net.

Score Prediction

While I think it will take about 20 minutes for the USMNT to get clicking on the field, I think eventually it becomes a match where we outplay El Salvador and really end it in the middle of the second half. Give me another 3-0 victory with a little bit of history. While Nagbe will bag one goal, give me Dempsey with the brace to pass Landon Donovan and become the all-time leading scorer in USMNT history.

What are you expecting tomorrow? What lineup do you think Arena rolls out? Hit the comments and let’s hear it!