The group stage for the United States in the Gold Cup begins on Saturday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. The victor of this game will most likely emerge as the winner of Group B. By winning the group the USA would likely avoid Costa Rica until the semis and Mexico until the finals, although one can never be certain.
There has been one change to the Gold Cup roster since the game against the Black Stars as winger Kenny Saief of KAA Gent in Belgium was forced to withdraw because of a groin injury. Chris Pontius of the Philadelphia Union has been brought in to replace him. Even though Saief was deemed short of match fitness prior to the Ghana match by head coach Bruce Arena (his club team is on holiday) many expected Saief to get the start on the left wing against Panama before his injury.
W (2-1) - Ghana - Friendly
D (1-1) - Mexico - WCQ
W (2-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
D (1-1) - Venezuela - Friendly
D (1-1) - Panama - WCQ
D (2-2) - Honduras - WCQ
D (0-0) - Costa Rica - WCQ
D (1-1) - United States - WCQ
L (0-1) - Trinidad and Tobago - WCQ
W (1-0) - Costa Rica - Copa Centroamericana
What to Watch for
Dax, Dax, and more Dax: When Bruce Arena was head coach for the LA Galaxy he tried to trade for Dax McCarty. “I think he’s a good midfield player and a player who can play well at the international level,” said Arena in a recent article on mlssoccer.com. McCarty is one of the primary reasons why the Chicago Fire have zoomed from worst to first in the Major League Soccer standings. Even though McCarty has only a half dozen caps he is a long time MLS captain and the other players on the squad look to him for advice. He was my man of the match against Ghana.
Consistency: Arena has done some experimenting with his recent lineups including using a back three at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico. Don’t expect a switch back to that three man defensive line for the Panama game. This is the most important game in the group stage for the United States and there is no time for trial and error. They played fairly well with the back four and the starting lineup that was used against Ghana - don’t expect many changes on Saturday.
Ismael Diaz: This is a player that I feel may become a thorn in the side of the United States for the next decade. According to transfermarkt, FC Porto paid 3 million euros to sign Diaz permanently from his Panamanian club, Tauro FC, last year. He has already made 58 appearances for their Porto B squad (before he was signed permanently he spent time there on loan). Diaz recently turned 20 years old and may see some minutes against the United States.
I call this lineup a 4-1-4-1, however, it can easily be shifted to a 4-2-3-1 with Joe Corona sliding up into more of an attacking role and Kellyn Acosta dropping slighter further back and playing more alongside McCarty.
The USA is more likely to come out in an attacking style therefore the 4-1-4-1 with most of the midfielders pressing and McCarty as the only holding midfielder. If they get a lead then Acosta may shift back a bit.
Six of the eleven players in the starting lineup appear to have clearly won starting spots. Brad Guzan in goal, Jorge Villafaña and Matt Besler on the left side of defense, Acosta and McCarty in midfield, and Corona as more of an attacking midfielder.
Dom Dwyer is close to being the seventh untouchable in the starting eleven with his dream debut against Ghana.
The international experience of Omar Gonzalez gives him the nod against Panama, but don’t be surprised if Matt Hedges edges him out. Social media seems to be clamoring for Eric Lichaj to get the start at right back but USMNT veteran Graham Zusi put in a solid shift against Ghana.
I have Kelyn Rowe and Gyasi Zardes starting over Paul Arriola on the wing. Arriola was the favorite heading into camp, but Rowe seemed to mesh with the squad a little better in the Ghana game. As for Zardes, his form has suffered since coming off a long term injury but Arena knows him well from their days at the LA Galaxy together. Arena may just give him one more shot - he was the fist substitute against Ghana. If Arriola does not get the start expect him to get minutes on the wing in the second half.
Give your picks in the Comments section below.