June 23 – The 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup group stage kicks off this Saturday in Group A with defending champions USA taking on Jamaica at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. It is a big opener for the US who are under scrutiny after a magnificent performance at the Nations League finals in Las Vegas a week ago.
Despite the joy of that win, somewhat inexplicably, the bulk of the squad that played an expansive and explosive brand of football that has rarely, if ever, been exhibited by the US, has been dropped.
In their place is a squad pulled mainly from the MLS and LigaMX, with the brilliant Matt Turner who kept five clean sheets in 2021, in goal.
The US are looking to win their first back-to-back Gold Cup crowns since the 2005 and 2007 editions. They are also looking to build for the home hosted 2026 World Cup. But if the Nations League squad is close to their best, will keeping them away from opportunities to play together really create a competitive 2026 squad? Will not playing make them a better team – it could be coaching genius.
Or actually is it a case of a weak national federation unable to enforce release requirements on powerful European clubs. It is a conundrum not adequately answered.
Interim head coach B.J. Callaghan (he hands the job back to Gregg Berhalter at the end of the Gold Cup. Why wait?) in a press statement said somewhat unconvincingly: “This is a group that we have a lot of confidence in as we look to win another Gold Cup trophy.”
Callahan, who played an absolute blinder in Las Vegas taking the US to the Nations League title in style, continued: “It’s a roster that has a good mix of veteran players that have World Cup experience and younger players have earned an opportunity to come into camp and represent the United States in the Gold Cup.”
So a reward for good behaviour for these guys but few of them are in the thinking for 2026?
“Many of these players have performed well at their clubs as well as the previous opportunities that they have had in the national team environment. We’re trying to expose as many players as possible to tournament competition. Some have a lot of experiences that we continue to build on, while others are just starting out. In all cases it will be valuable for the group moving forward.”
Moving on. And to a very significant and looming hurdle arriving with all their best players from Europe’s biggest league – seven of them from Premier League and a host more from big clubs behind them.
Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz are arriving with Michail Antonio, Leon Bailey, Bobby Reid and newly nationalised Demarai Gray.
That is serious Premier League fire power against a somewhat wooden looking US defence. If the Reggae Boyz arrive in the right head space under new Icelandic coach Heimer Hallgrimsson, then expect a night of discomfort for the US.
In Matt Turner the US have a world class stopper. Up front they will be looking to Jesus Ferreira and Jordan Morris to supply goals. They will have the support of Club America’s Alex Zendejas who has been a key supply line for Henry Martin’s goal topping LigaMx season.
Zendejas was about to feature in the Nations League final before sendings off forced Callahan to rethink his structure. Gold Cup could prove to be Zendejas’ breakthrough tournament.
While the US have Turner in goal, Jamaica have the equally brilliant Andre Blake in goal. It is hard to see the US getting too many past him.
Soldier Field is set for a battle royal.
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