As the final whistle blew in the 1-0 United States victory over Curaçao, the players from Curaçao fell to the turf they had played so hard on. Their Gold Cup journey was over, but this was an important step toward their longer term ambition. The disappointment on the field was not a true reflection of their overall perspective. “I am happy. The players are happy. Curaçao is happy. The only thing we did not get is 3 points,” said Curaçao coach Remko Bicentini after the match.
Curaçao has come a long way since being ranked #178 in the FIFA World Rankings in 2013. They won the Caribbean Cup in 2017 and also qualified for their first Gold Cup that same year. They are already looking forward to the Nations League in a few months to continue their evolution. “You can see in this tournament we play now at a higher level. We’ve learned and we took a lot of steps. We need these games to play [in the Nations League] in September.”
Curaçao was joined by Jamaica and Haiti in the quarterfinals, only the second time that at least three teams from the Caribbean made it that far in tournament history. Haiti and Jamaica advanced to the semifinals, outing Canada and Panama in the process. It’s the first time two Caribbean nations have reached the semifinals in the same year. Curaçao made a good case to make it a third.
Gregg Berhalter wasn’t as sure that the Caribbean teams have made a significant stride. “That’s difficult to assess from this tournament,” he said. But he does appreciate their different styles of play. “Curaçao has a very specific way to play. A lot of the players are from Dutch descent and they have a nice calmness to them. Haiti is a bit different. They rely on athleticism and are more of a counterattacking team, a more dynamic team. Both teams have done very well in this tournament.”
Of course, Jamaica has been excellent in Gold Cup play lately. They have now reached the semifinals three straight times, and only the USMNT stands in their way of making a third straight finals appearance. “When you talk about Jamaica, they have always had quality, especially in their attacking positions. Whether you’re talking about Leon Bailey or [Dever] Orgill, they are a very talented group of players,” said Berhalter.
Whether or not this Gold Cup tournament is proof the Caribbean nations are improving rapidly, a broader look does reveal that in recent years their collective improvements are catching up to the Central American competition. The top Caribbean teams are definitely on the upswing in recent years.
The Gold Cup is an important tournament exactly because teams from smaller countries have opportunities like playing the United States in a competitive match. These are experiences teams like Curaçao build on. The same can be said of this mostly youthful United States team. “For guys to start to get experience in tournaments like this, in games like this is very important,” said Michael Bradley after the match. The USMNT struggled against an improving Caribbean side, but did enough to win. Now they’ll get more critical experience against another island team in Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinals on Wednesday.