The United States Men’s National Team heads into the second round of Group B play at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Fresh off a 1-0 victory over Haiti, Gregg Berhalter’s side takes on Martinique at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Ineligible for FIFA competitions, this tournament could be viewed as a World Cup equivalent for the island nation.
The two sides have faced off twice, with the USMNT holding a 2-0-0 advantage. Martinique, an overseas department of France, has been a regular participant in the Gold Cup, reaching five of the last six competitions. Les Matinino qualified automatically for this year’s edition by finishing second place in League A, Group C of the 2019-2020 CONCACAF Nations League, ahead of Trinidad and Tobago.
Manager Mario Bocaly was hired in December of 2017 after working at domestic clubs on the island. Through 15 matches, he’s maintained an impressive 6-5-4 record that includes a narrow 3-2 loss to Mexico. Prior to the run up to this tournament, Martinique had not played a match since November of 2019. An attempted January friendly with Panama was canceled due to an “increase in COVID-19 cases,” and the team lost a pre-tournament friendly to Guadeloupe, 2-1.
Highlights: Canada debuts in #GoldCup21 with a 4-1 victory over Martinique at Children's Mercy Park. #ThisIsOurs pic.twitter.com/fMGTg1hiWc— Gold Cup (@GoldCup) July 12, 2021
Against Canada, Martinique jumped out to a 1-0 lead, capitalizing on a bad back-pass. However, Les Matinino were quickly overwhelmed by the speed of the opponent, particularly in the midfield, leading to a 4-1 defeat. The team managed a mere two shots on target with a measly 34% of possession.
Bocaly named a 23-player squad for the tournament, determining defense to be a “priority.” The squad is comprised of five talents competing abroad in France, Spain, and Italy. The rest of the call-ups are from the domestic Martinique Championnat National, mainly competing for local giants Club Franciscain, Golden Lion, and AS Samaritaine.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Loïc Chauvet (Golden Lion), Arnaud Hugues des Etages (Aiglon), Gilles Meslien (Golden Lion)
DEFENDERS (7): Sébastien Crétinoir (AS Samaritaine), Gérald Dondon (Club Franciscain), Yann Thimon (Club Franciscain), Jean-Sylvain Babin (Sporting Gijón), Samuel Camille (Olympique Valence), Junior Michalet (Golden Lion), Patrick Burner (Nîmes)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Daniel Hérelle (AS Samaritaine), Stéphane Abaul (Club Franciscain), Karl Vitulin (AS Samaritaine), Romario Barthéléry (Golden Lion), Norman Grelet (Golden Lion), Trésident Isaac (Club Colonial), Yordan Thimon (Club Franciscain)
FORWARDS (6): Christophe Jougon (Club Franciscain), Johnny Marajo (Club Franciscain), Grégory Pastel (Aiglon), Kévin Fortuné (Auxerre), Emmanuel Rivière (Crotone), Enrick Reuperne (Aiglon)
Bocaly prefers a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation, intended to optimize the strong attacking unit. The lineup choices will reveal much about the thought process from a manager in a difficult situation with short rest. Needing a result against the USMNT, expect a similar group to the one deployed against Canada.
Goalkeeper could be the most active position on the field. Arnaud Hugues des Etages, a 35-year-old with Aiglon, played once in the Nations League and during the friendly against Guadeloupe. Acrobatic shot-stopper Loïc Chauvet has been the country’s undisputed number one for the several years. However, Gilles Meslien of Gold Lion started the opener against Canada, making only his second international appearance after debuting last month.
The center back pairing of Sébastien Crétinoir and Jean-Sylvain Babin should start once again. The former is the squad’s sometime captain, having earned 64 caps. At the age of 35, this is likely his last tournament for Martinique. The latter competes with Sporting Gijón in the Spanish Segunda División, making 42 appearances last season. The 34-year-old defender uses his body well to shield attackers and can be a dangerous target on set pieces.
⚽ Jean-Sylvain Babin ⚽ #SevillaFCGranada pic.twitter.com/AUZjkfzQtG— LaLiga (@LaLigaFRA) January 24, 2020
Fullback Patrick Burner is a skilled attacker, constantly pushing forward to play dangerous crosses and through balls in the final third. He did not drive the action against Canada, which must change if Martinique is going to have a chance against the USMNT. Veteran Romario Barthéléry started on the right side in the first match but was substituted at halftime for Samuel Camille. The 35-year-old could be in the lineup after a disappointing performance from the back line.
The usual midfield trio competes in the domestic league. Nice-born destroyer Daniel Hérelle is the most-capped player in Martinique national team history and disrupts passing lanes. Normally a defender, Karl Vitulin of AS Samaritaine occupied the other spot in the double pivot against Canada, a move that will likely be repeated. Attacking midfielder Stéphane Abaul has scored nine times in 57 international appearances. He is often responsible for bringing the ball forward, enjoying the occasional darting run through opposing defenders.
12’ Goal @LFM972_officiel! Stephane Abaul gives his team the lead with a well placed shot to the lower corner!#CNL #TheDreamStartsNow pic.twitter.com/dOxyK3kMnS— Concacaf Nations League (@CNationsLeague) November 20, 2018
The attacking group has already proven capable of catching the opponent off guard. Emmanuel Rivière scored Martinique’s lone goal against Canada. The 31-year-old striker plays with Crotone in Serie B, an acrobatic finisher that finds space behind the center backs and is reliant on receiving good service. Auxerre forward Kévin Fortuné brings energy to the lineup, always looking to push the tempo. Wide player Yann Thimon is a veteran of the domestic league with Franciscain.
Martinique could once again be overrun on defense, unable to transition to the attack. If the back line struggles in possession and the poor marking on set pieces continues, the USMNT should roll to another victory. The match is scheduled for Thursday, July 15th at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, 6:30 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Fox Sports 1, TUDN, UniMás, and FuboTV (free trial).