Arlington, Texas – While many have been focused on the Gold Cup run for the USMNT in terms of seeing how far a January Camp squad could go in continental competition, the run the USMNT have gone on provides us with context for World Cup Qualifying.
USMNT results provide context for World Cup Qualifying
If the USMNT had brought Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Giovanni Reyna, John Brooks, etc. the USMNT fan base would be simply expecting a dominant performance and run all the way to the final to face off against Mexico and avenge their loss in the last Gold Cup. Instead, Gregg Berhalter called in a glorified January camp squad with the purpose of asking questions about the depth of the player pool.
So far, January Camp boys have racked up four consecutive wins, and now have a goal differential of nine scored and one conceded. They have wins against Martinique and Haiti, yes. But they also have two 1-0 wins over teams they will be seeing in World Cup Qualifying…sorry…they have wins over a slightly weakened Canada and a full-strength Jamaica. This squad itself will not be playing in World Cup Qualifying matches. If it does, something disastrous happened and none of the European-based players were allowed to travel home for Qualifying. But some of the players in the squad will certainly be there. And given what we’ve seen from that group of players emerging is that they have chops to play when called upon.
The first half of USMNT and Jamaica’s Gold Cup Quarterfinal was rough. The USMNT had issues keeping possession, the field didn’t help, and they made some silly mistakes. Chalk it up to a young squad facing their first big elimination match. The second half was a different story. Players like Gianluca Busio really settled in, and we were finally relieved of Daryl Dike’s futile hold-up efforts in favor of a striker that certainly has deserved the start from here on out. Matthew Hoppe got on the end of a Roldan cross and gave the USMNT a deserved win over Jamaica who shrunk when the lights shone brightest on them in the second half. Remember, this is likely the squad Jamaica is taking with them in World Cup Qualifying.
So what’s the context? Well, at this point it should be that failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup would be an absolute abomination for the USMNT. If they can send their “camp cupcake” squad to a continental tournament and scratch out wins against Jamaica, and Canada, while beating some of the minnows they’d be expected to defeat, they can certainly send their best squad out into the throws of CONCACAF and demand results.
But if and when COVID-19 and injury issues arise, some of the players in this Gold Cup squad will need to be called upon. And when they collect victories over strong opponents in these tournaments they further reinforce the idea that they can be trusted in the big moments that will arise this fall into next spring. After all, nobody will be too down if this squad fails to win the Gold Cup. However, they will care if the USA fails to qualify.
In the end, the USMNT approach to the Gold Cup has always been about World Cup Qualifying. Berhalter wanted his best players to get a good break, and pre-season in so they can be fit, healthy, and ready to contribute to their first-team squads overseas as the season starts in the coming weeks. It is imperative that they are in form and ready to go for qualifying, and risking burn-out and injury this summer would be detrimental to their qualifying. Now, as the team he called in pulls in results, the USMNT looks like it’s set up perfectly for what they’ve been focused on all along.