Gold Cup: USMNT Could Catch A Lucky Break

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(Editorial) – The U.S. Men’s National Team has already won Group A of the 2015 Gold Cup. The only other team to win their first two group stage matches are Trinidad and Tobago, who have yet to play Mexico. While the standings show that the USMNT is in good shape, their performances have not been that encouraging. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and company are still figuring things out.

While neither victories were convincing, the match against Haiti was very much an experiment. Against Honduras, the U.S. took a punch and responded emphatically. It could be that the USMNT is figuring things out in the group stage just like the USWNT did last month in the World Cup.

Regardless, all of their primary competition is in worse shape through two group stage matches. Even if the USMNT cannot fix their issues, they could luck out in that their competition is a hot mess. Furthermore, each team that qualifies for the knockout round will get to make six changes to the roster. The USMNT has the most talent and experience left on their preliminary roster, including Matt Besler and Lee Nguyen.

With that, here’s what’s gone wrong for every other team in the tournament and why the USMNT could catch a lucky break with a relatively weak knockout round field:

Mexico

El Tri was already a soap opera coming into the Gold Cup. Rumors surfaced that Head Coach Miguel Herrera is in a must-win situation to keep his job. Veteran Center Back Hector Moreno injured his foot against Costa Rica and was ruled out for the tournament. Then Chicharito Hernandez was also ruled out after fracturing his collar bone against Honduras.

Mexico defeated Cuba 6-0 in their opening match, albeit with Cuba shorthanded. They then proceeded to to draw 0-0 against Guatemala, who went down to 10 men in the 76th minute. It would take a loss against Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala would have to beat Cuba and make up an eight goal differential for Mexico to not get second in the group.

The result aside, Mexico has not been that impressive. They have created plenty of chances but could not finish against Guatemala. Chicharito’s absence was felt. When it gets to the critical moments, they are still having trouble getting the job done. Maybe it’s the pressure. Maybe it’s the tactics. Maybe it’s Giovani Dos Santos not being in the starting lineup. Either way, things don’t look good for El Tri.

Costa Rica

The CONCACAF darlings of last summer are in a bit of hot water themselves. With two points and a goal differential of zero, they sit in second in Group B and could be eliminated in the group stage. It would probably require them to lose to Canada however.

Los Ticos have been less than impressive so far, though their first match was more about upstart Jamaica impressing than them not showing up. Twice Costa Rica has given up a lead and gotten only a draw. Some of this could be underestimating their opponents.

Statistically, their two matches have been bizarre. They won 62% possession against Jamaica but didn’t dominate in chance creation. Both teams had 13 shots. Costa Rica had six corners to the Reggae Boyz four. Against El Salvador out possessed Costa Rica at 51%. They also outshot them 10-9 (6-2 on target).

While this is probably not indicative of how Costa Rica would play against the USMNT, it certainly shows a lack of form. With the tournament taking place on American soil, the U.S. would be confident going into a match against this team.

Panama

These two have yet to play in group play, but Panama very much looks to be over the hill. Like Costa Rica, they have two draws so far against lesser competition. A loss against the USMNT could put them at risk of missing the knock out stage.

This is a very old roster relatively and some of the key players just haven’t shown up. Blas Perez has an assist but has not scored. The back line could not bail out Jaime Penedo after he stopped a PK against El Salvador.

In the past, Panama has been a scrappy team that can rise up to the higher level competition in CONCACAF. Considering they have not taken care of business against weaker competition and haven’t impressed in the past (unlike Costa Rica), this team does not look to be a significant threat. Tonight’s match against the USMNT will give more clarity.

Everyone Else

The Caribbean teams are often minnows and cannon fodder in the Gold Cup. Jamaica looks to be the most talented as a potential giant slayer. Winning Group B would be a huge success for them. Still, their speed on the wings is their biggest advantage. Against the USMNT with DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson, and potentially Gyasi Zardes, that advantage is not that big. Inexperience and the pressure of the moment would probably do them in as well.

The rest are clearly inferior to the USMNT. Trinidad and Tobago have been a nice story but still are not a real threat. A victory would be an upset of the ages for any of these countries.

While Honduras is normally put in the same list as Costa Rica and Panama in the hierarchy, they’ve already played and lost to the Americans. They executed their game plan well in the first half and made it a gritty CONCACAF game of soccer. Even with that, Dempsey and company still found a way to win.

Every team in the field has a weakness, including the Americans. But the USMNT still has the most depth and the most talent. They’re relatively injury free. Every other opponent has a weakness that can be exploited or is on a dip in form. Even if they aren’t able to mimic the USWNT in figuring things out in the group stage and peaking at the right time, they could be in luck. The field looks relatively weak especially with the current state of Mexico.

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