Gold Cup preview: USMNT v. Martinique (group stage)

The Americans’ Gold Cup didn’t get off to the start of anyone’s dreams with a victory over Haiti. But with non-FIFA side Martinique on the way, there’s a chance to the good vibes back before the competition really ramps up.

The essentials

Opponent: Martinique
Time, Location: Thursday, July 15, 9:00 p.m. CDT • Children’s Mercy Park, KC
Watch party: TailGate Music Row with AO Nashville
Weather: 72ºF, 68% chance of rain, 93% humidity, 6 MPH SSE wind
Watch: FS1 (national) • Fox Deportes (nacionál)

The FIFA rankings: USA 20 , Martinique N/A
Competition: 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup Group B

The competition

Through one matchdate, The Red, White, and Blue looks up at a blue-excluding palette in Group B:

TeamPointsGDTo play
Canada3+3Haiti, USA
United States3+1Martinique, Canada
Haiti0-1Canada, Martinique
Martinique0-3USA, Haiti
Group B

The only thing separating the US and Canada right now is goal differential, of course. So depending on your opinion of the relative strengths of Haiti and Martinique, things are right on track for winning the group even with a draw against the Canucks. Alas, we’ll get a meaningful datapoint when it comes to those relative strengths tonight… at which point the US and Canada will have each played both of them anyway, so it doesn’t particularly matter (Canada-Haiti does kick off first, so if Team Maple Leaf struggles similarly to the US’s game, you’re feeling much better).

In the other groups, Mexico is… le sigh back on track to win Group A, and at the very least to guarantee advancement. That group’s the only one with two matchdates in the books, so there’s plenty up in the air with the expected favorites (Costa Rica-Jamaica in C, Honduras-Panama in D) still in the driver’s seat to advance. However, Panama only tied Qatar, so Los Canaleros have work to do or the guest nation could make it out.

Les Matinino

Martinique’s guys pretty much all play domestically, which is not a great thing considering “playing domestically” means plying one’s trade in Martinique, an overseas territory of France that has less than half the population of Nashville. These are largely not guys who have been recognized and moved to play in more competitive leagues as they’ve developed.

Six members of the team suit up for Club Franciscain, which was dominant in the league… uh, when last the Wikipedia page was updated (at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, presumably the last season completed thanks to Covid). From 1993-2019, they won 18 titles. Other domestic clubs sending multiple players include Aiglon (3), Golden Lion (5), and Samaritaine (3). These are top half of the table squads with some consistency. The quality of the league remains the quality of the league.

We’re more interested in those who don’t play on the tiny island. There are two from Ligue 2 in the parent country, France (and another from, like, a semipro club). Auxerre’s Kevin Fortune, a midfielder, just got his eighth cap on Sunday (at age 31!), while right back Patrick Burner of Nîmes got his very first. In Italy, Emmanuel Rivière is a 31-year old striker from Serie B’s Crotone. And in Spain, we have another second-division gig, Sporting Gijón’s 34-year old defender Jean-Sylvain Babin.

Against Canada, Les Matinino went with a 5-4-1 formation to try to prevent leaking goals and hit on the counter. They did the latter in the opening minutes of the game… but never really stood a chance at the former in the 4-1 loss. The two most-capped players on the squad patrol the deep middle, with holding mid Daniel Hérelle boasting 79 caps and middle CB Sébastien Crétinoire on 64.

The Americans

Reggie Cannon and Paul Arriola are still out for this evening (Cannon was an injury scratch Sunday, while Arriola left in the opening few minutes with a hamstring issue), and given the importance of the Canada match – and the quality of this opponent – it’s obviously the right decision at this point.

So what do I want to see?

Honestly, I’d give Sam Vines a rest and let George Bello get a run-out at LB, while Shaq Moore is the healthy option at RB. Given those two statuses, the question becomes whether you stuck with the same CB pairing, run out the same back-three (with James Sands) that we saw for the final several minutes, or mix up the personnel – which can obviously be done with either of those greater philosophies at play. Selfishly from a Nashville perspective, just let me see plenty of Walker Zimmerman, basically the max amount that he won’t get hurt or fatigued over the course of the Gold Cup.

Jackson Yueill – of whom you’ll not I’ve been a major defender – was… not great on Sunday. What I’m surprised to not see plenty of people suggesting in their never-ending (and my nascent) quest to get him off the field is Kellyn Acosta as the holding midfielder and distributor with Gianluca Busio joining Sebastian Lletget as the more-advanced central mids. It allows Acosta’s athleticism in the midfield to cover more ground than Busio can, and he has the ball-striking to hit passes from deep. (Sands as a de facto holding mid slash middle CB – a la Atlanta United’s Santiago Sosa – could facilitate more of a 3-4-3 look, as well).

The dearth of wing options is much-discussed in USMNT circles, so… screw it, throw a bunch of goal-scorers out there. Daryl Dike is a fave-rave of this site, and playing him with Gyasi Zardes got a run-out Sunday evening. Let’s see it from the start, with Matthew Hoppe and Nicholas Gioacchini able to come off the bench in a more traditional striker role for either of them, than the winger role they may be shoehorned into otherwise. That does leave a forward position open, unless we see a tactical approach that hasn’t happened yet under Behalter (or we get the 3-1-4-2-ish philosophy). I’d almost rather see another attacking midfielder in there, though an unbalanced formation with Jonathan Lewis’s speed down the sideline keeping Martinique occupied over there could be a decent idea, even if his utility as anything beyond “be fast on the sideline” is starting to look unlikely.


United States 4, Martinique 0

OK, this time my prediction will really happen. Was over-confident Sunday evening, and if anything, I lean toward this one being a swing back toward over-conservatism in response.

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