It begins. The US Men’s National Team has already taken home one piece of continental silverware this Summer, and will look to make it a double. The Gold Cup is underway, and the Nats take the pitch this evening.
Time, Location: Sunday, July 11, 8:00 p.m. CDT • Children’s Mercy Park, KC
Watch party: TailGate Music Row with AO Nashville
Weather: 70ºF, 30% chance of rain, 79% humidity, 11 MPH Northerly wind
Watch: FS1 (national) • Fox Deportes (nacionál)
The FIFA rankings: USA 20 , Haiti 83
Competition: 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup Group B
This will be the United States’ first of three group-stage games in the Gold Cup. The Americans are favored to win Group B (particularly now that Canada will be without two stars), and given that the opening matchdate is the 1-4 pairing in each group, should be expected to easily dispatch this particular opponent. Canada and Martinique play in the matinee, so the US will have an idea of how the group is beginning to shake out (i.e. how big a goal differential Canada builds in victory) by kickoff.
That 1-4 matchup status makes it funnier that Mexico played a scoreless draw against Trinidad and Tobago in Group A last night. Trinidad isn’t your typical fourth-seed in a group, to be fair (the Trinbagonians had to qualify through the Caribbean region thanks to a subpar Nations League outing), but they’re far from a powerhouse. It would nonetheless be a stunner if Mexico failed to win the group – to say nothing of failing to advance out of it – but rivalry yuks are always a good time.
Anyway. the top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinal round, where the winner of Group B will face the runner-up in Group C and vice versa. Group C consists of Costa Rica, Jamaica, Suriname, and Guadalupe, and given the recent weakness of the Ticos, Jamaica probably sees this as the Group of Life. Winning Group B to forestall a match against the Reggae Boyz is advisable.
Given the nature of the world, this is the lowest-ranked team that the United States has played in a competitive match since November 2019 (a 4-0 Nations League win against No. 180 Cuba), and there’s only been one game (January’s 7-0 friendly victory against No. 103 Trinidad and Tobago) in the time since against a team lower-ranked than Haiti.
This is not a particularly good side to begin with. The president of the country was assassinated this week. And at least five players will miss the game due to virus protocols. This Haiti team should be easy fodder for even a B-minus USMNT.
Players in the squad include a guy playing in the third(!) division in Portugal – the goalkeeper with the viral WPIOOTBGW moment) – one in Kazakhstan, second division in France, multiple in USL, etc. Columbus Crew’s Derrick Ettiene Jr. (an American with Haitian roots) and forward Duckens Nazon of Hobro IK (Danish first division) are, by a reasonably wide margin, the guys playing at the highest levels for their club ball. There are three domestically-based players, and you may note that the Haitian league is not world-renowned.
There are only two players older than 28 – defender Kevin Lafrance and Ricardo Adé are both 31 – so this is also a reasonably young team building toward a strong 2026 World Cup Qualifying cycle more than anything else.
Haiti has played several variations on the back-four theme under new manager (and 64-cap former Haiti CB) Jean-Jacques Pierre since he took over in March. World Cup Qualifying matches have seen 4-3-3, flat 4-4-2, and 4-4-2 diamond philosophies. He stuck with a double-pivot in both legs of the ill-fated matchup with Canada, so I would imagine that’s the idea tonight – though of course with personnel absences, you never know what options will be available until we see who isn’t active for the game.
The rhythm of group-stage competition gives the US not only the opportunity, but the incentive to go with pretty close to a full-strength lineup in this one. The Americans will want to have the top group building some chemistry before the Canada match in a week’s time, and the mid-week contest against non-FIFA side Martinique (eligible for continental competition, but not the World Cup) should be similarly non-taxing, so the rotation can happen there as the group builds up for the important group-decider against the Canucks.
That means Matt Turner in goal (a game where he may literally not face a shot on target is a nice ease into the competition for the top spot on the depth chart later on), Nashville’s own Walker Zimmerman next to Miles Robinson at centerback, Reggie Cannon at right back, probably some combination of Sebastian Lletget, Cristian Roldan, and Gianluca Busio in midfield (in approximately that order of likelihood to get the starting nod), and Daryl Dike flanked by Paul Arriola up top.
You’ll note that leaves a few question marks, namely left back – I’m agnostic on who’s the better choice between Colorado Rapids’s Sam Vines and Atlanta United’s George Bello – and the second winger. Head coach Gregg Berhalter has mentioned that Nicholas Gioacchini and Matthew Hoppe, who are typically center forwards for France’s Caen and Germany’s Schalke, respectively, are both options to get a run out on the wing. I’d rather see either of them than Colorado’s Jonathan Lewis (who seems more like a late-game sub for a burst of speed, anyway).
The US should likely take some risks in the first half to try to build a lead and cruise on home. With little threat of Haiti making them pay for those risks, and a strong likelihood that even an early deficit could be easily overcome, settling the final result early on should be the goal, leaving only the final score a mystery for any tangible period of time.
United States 4, Haiti 0
There may be slight criticisms about how much of a cruise the team takes after an early lead, but not running up the score – with the faith that a head-to-head win against Canada makes the goal differential irrelevant – is prudent against a team with as much going against it as Haiti does right now.