By Samindra Kunti in Chicago
June 23 – On the eve of the Gold Cup opener, US interim coach B.J. Callaghan has hailed opponents Jamaica as “very talented” and “a great test” for his young team which is playing “to win” the tournament.
On Saturday, the American hosts take on the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica in the curtain raiser of Concacaf’s 2023 flagship tournament and Callaghan has a singular message for his roster of inexperienced players after the United States maintained only five players from last week’s Nations League victory against Canada in the squad.
“The message to the team is to understand that why we’re here is to win another trophy, to win another Gold Cup trophy,” said Callaghan (pictured) at a news conference.
“But we’re really looking at this as two tournaments. There’s a knockout stage tournament that we need to earn the opportunity to get to by playing through the group stage first. So the focus right now with the group messaging is just that we understand that we’re going to be here from tomorrow till July 2.”
With seven Premier League players in their ranks as well as ample Gold Cup experience, Jamaica will represent a tough first hurdle for the defending champions, who will also face Trinidad and Tobago and debutants Saint Kitts & Nevis in Group A. At the previous Gold Cup, the US knocked out Jamaica 1-0 in the quarter-finals following a late strike by Matthew Hoppe.
“We look at the roster that Jamaica was able to bring here for the Gold Cup and I don’t think it’s any secret in our camp that this is probably the most talented Jamaica team that we’re going to face,” assessed Callaghan.
“You have tons of experienced players, young players, and also players that have performed really well in the Gold Cup over a lot of years for them. So we’re expecting a team that’s motivated, a team that we think can beat you and hurt you in different ways. The offensive transition can be a threat. Offensive set pieces can be a threat. Even in their build-up, there are a lot of threats in terms of on the wings.”
“We do speak a lot about the attack, but there’s also an unbelievable goalkeeper that I’m familiar with, Andre Blake, that we have to put the ball past as well.”
Two summers ago, the United States won both the Nations League and the Gold Cup with a split squad, a feat Callaghan and his charges are seeking to repeat. A dozen players in the squad have six caps or fewer. Nine players are yet to appear in an official match for the national team.
The Gold Cup does provide the US with an good opportunity to look at the depth of their player pool as they seek to build toward the 2026 World Cup, the first global finals the Americans will stage on home soil again since 1994. Yet the tournament will be a challenge for Callaghan, who serves as an interim coach with Gregg Berhalter waiting in the wings to return and take over the national team. Callaghan emphasised that he will have full responsibility and control over the team during the Gold Cup.
“The messaging and things that go on in the Gold Cup, it’s completely within our camp,” explained Callaghan. “It’s completely within our staff. As he (Berhalter) and Matt continue to build towards the future and evolve this national team as we sort of continue to embark to 2026.”
“We spoke often when he wasn’t named the coach. He’s a friend, he’s a mentor, he’s someone that I worked with for over four and a half years. So I think it’s just natural to have conversations and to bounce ideas off of each other.”
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