The United States Men's National Team begins the elimination round with a quarterfinal match up against Cuba. Despite being in the most difficult group in the Gold Cup, the Yanks clinched the group after 2 wins against Honduras and Haiti. Despite winning both matches, the United States was out shot 37-12 combined in victory and were outshot 13-8 in the draw with Panama- shocking for a team to perform like a front runner. What needs to happen to bring home the cup? Here's a few thoughts leading into Saturday's match.
Don't worry the Cavalry's coming- Ok, so maybe Alan Gordon doesn't really inspire a lot of enthusiasm, and Joe Benny Corona has been out of the picture for a while, but they'll bring some grit. For Jozy Altidore, he probably pushed it after a hamstring injury, and you can hardly blame him after the World Cup last year. Alfredo Morales also wasn't terribly effective in the group stage either, and in Corona, Klinsmann at least knows he's bringing in a seasoned hand accustomed to the vagaries of CONCACAF competition.
Then there's Demarcus Beasley. In Beasley, you have a 4-time World Cup veteran and one of the toughest players ever to wear the uniform for the USMNT. Also, he's still arguably the best left back the US has in the pool. For a position that has traditionally been a weakness for the Americans, the luxury of being able to call in an all-time US (and CONCACAF, for that matter) great for the knockout rounds is immeasurable. Too bad they couldn't call in Landon Donovan as well.
It could be worse- Neither Mexico nor Costa Rica managed to win their group. As a result, they play each other in the quarterfinals tomorrow. Mexico lost Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Hector Moreno just before the tournament. Giovanni Dos Santos picked up a quad injury against Trinidad & Tobago and is questionable for the match on Sunday. Outside of a pounding of a Cuban team playing with 16 players because of visa issues and a defection, Mexico has looked mediocre at best.
For Costa Rica, if they beat Mexico on Sunday, it will be their 1st win of the tournament. Against the trio of powerhouses that is Canada, El Salvador, and Jamaica, they mustered 3 draws. This moved them to the opposite side of the elimination bracket where the path to the finals is much less straight forward than the American side of the bracket. I would not be surprised if Mexico and Costa Rica ended up going to penalties.
It's the US's tournament to lose- The Yanks are the masters of CONCACAF. The region does look like it's getting stronger across the board, but on most days they're going to carry the day. It starts with Cuba, who have had an additional 3 players defect and were recently eliminated from the 2018 World Cup by Curacao. Jamaica or Haiti awaits the US in the semifinals, and while an upset is possible here (Georgia Dome, more grass on top of turf, a bad slip here or there), the US could not have asked for an easier route to the finals. The similarities to the USWNT's recent run through the World Cup are pretty obvious, provided the men up their game to match.
Sure the defense has looked shaky at times over the group stage, and Kyle Beckerman's wheels have looked shaky, but even with their B game, the US advanced comfortably from the toughest group. The temptation is to pick another famous 'Dos a Cero' over Mexico in the finals, but at this point I think Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama are all equally capable of making the finals. Ultimately, the US ratchets up their game and repeat as Gold Cup champions earning a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup (in Russia?).