The United States men’s national team has been a letdown in the Gold Cup so far. After opening the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Panama, the Americans barely escaped with a 3-2 win over Martinique on Wednesday.
Coach Bruce Arena opted to lean heavily on players from MLS, with only two players coming from European clubs in Matt Miazga (Chelsea) and Eric Lichaj (Nottingham). He also decided to leave a lot of regulars at home such as Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey. So it is more of “B” squad that is taking part in the Gold Cup on home soil.
And that is fine. If Arena wants to have a look at some other players in a competitive environment, then this is the perfect tournament for that. But so far, no player has really convinced Arena that he deserves a spot in the starting XI when we get back to World Cup qualifiers.
A lot of talk heading into the tournament surrounded Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta, and the hopes were that the 21-year-old would be able to shine in a more prominent role and create some offense without Bradley on the team. But that hasn’t been the case. Acosta had a real stinker against Panama in the opener, followed by a pedestrian game against Martinique.
The U.S. did create a good amount of chances in both matches, but the team has looked extremely vulnerable on defense as both their opponents focused on hitting the U.S. on the break and counterattack their way to success.
The first half against Martinique was the worst 45 minutes of play from a U.S. national team since the 4-0 defeat to Costa Rica in the World Cup qualifiers in November. They had a couple of mini-chances in the opening stages of the half, but there was a clear lack of creativity in midfield. As the half progressed, Martinique got more and more comfortable and ended with a couple of good chances that forced Brad Guzan into action.
The Americans finally got the breakthrough in the 54th minute when Omar Gonzalez scored, and when Jordan Morris made it 2-0 in the 64th minute, it looked like the U.S. would go on to thump Martinique. But instead the team seemed to switch off and Kevin Parsemain pulled one back for the little island nation just minutes after Morris’ goal. The shot came from just outside the penalty area and snuck by Guzan, who surely would want that one back as it should have been a routine save for the Atlanta netminder.
To make matters worse, Parsemain got a second goal as Martinique tied the game with 15 minutes to go. Morris did step up and scored the winner just a minute later, and basically saved the team from getting embarrassed by a nation that isn’t even a FIFA member.
Arena made a significant amount of changes in the lineup for the Martinique game, and he will surely rotate heavily once more for the final group game against Nicaragua. You could argue that making eight changes might have been a bit excessive, but even if he would have changed the whole starting XI, they shouldn’t be beating Martinique by just a single goal.
Luckily for them, the Americans still sit at the top of Gold Cup Group B heading into the last group match, and with two of three third-placed teams making the quarterfinals, even a loss against Nicaragua on Saturday would most likely still see them go through. If the U.S. is to make it far in the tournament and challenge for the title, Arena must find a way to inspire the team and get the players to express themselves on the field. They have been way too static going forward in the two first games of the tournament.