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

It all comes down to this one. And then the knockout stages, but first we’re concerned with this one.

The essentials

Opponent: Canada
Time, Location: Sunday, July 18, 5:00 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: Fox (national) • TUDN (nacionál)

The FIFA rankings: USA 20 , Canada 70
Competition: 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup Group B

The competition

The way the past two games have played out, this is the game in Group B. Of course, the competition is designed that way, but Concacaf couldn’t be happier with the favored team needing a win to secure the group.

TeamPointsGDTo play
Canada6+6 (8 GF)USA
United States3+6 (7 GF) Canada
Group B

The Americans’ slow start against Haiti means that – despite the same goal differential – the US is behind Canada on goals scored, the second tiebreaker. A Canada win or a draw means the Canucks top the group, whereas any US win puts the Red, White, and Blue into the top spot.

The Canucks

Gonna keep this one relatively short because we are not as far from the beginning of the game as we may otherwise prefer, and because the Canadian team is one with a lot of familiar faces, and might not need a 10,000-foot overview.

Starting keeper Maxime Crepeau is a basically-average MLS keeper so far this year. Your mileage may vary as to whether playing for Vancouver that’s even more impressive because of the volume of shots faced.

New England’s Tajon Buchanan (LWB), CF Montreal’s Kamal Miller (LCB), and Steven Vitoria – a rare Europe-based player (at least after the departures of Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David due to injuries and rest, respectively) – at MCB have locked down the left side of the backline throughout. Nashville’s very own Alistair Johnston has played both RCB and RWB, just like he did at the Concacaf Nations League, and acquitted himself well. TFC’s Richie Laryea was the RWB when Ali played inside, as I expect to be the case this afternoon.

LAFC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye and former Portugal youth international Stephen Eustaquio have been the double-pivot, but the latter (who plays in his native Portugal for his club ball) is suspended after a… tactical yellow Thursday evening. Samuel Piette – the be-ponytailed walking embodiment of a USL player who we’ve already seen twice in Nissan with CF Montreal – and Liam Fraser have been the subs in the middle, and I would guess Piette gets first crack.

Jonathan Osorio and Cyle Larin have played along the front line in both games. Osorio plays as a winger or attacking mid for TFC (there’s a little freedom up top as the Reds try to let Alejandro Pozuelo do what he wants – a smart choice) but is out wide for his nation in this tournament. Larin has played up top (with English Championship winger Junior Hoilett flanking him) or on the wing (with Vancouver’s Lucas Cavallini up top).

As you might expect, with an MLS-heavy team, there are a lot of names that the casual fan recognizes. That means it’s a pretty solid MLS-based squad! Without Davies (a starter for Bayern Munich, which happens to be one of the best teams in the world) and David (a teammate of the USMNT’s Timothy Weah at Lille), it’s not super-high-ceilinged. One could fairly say the same about a B-minus/C-plus US team as well, though.

The Americans

After a Sunday lineup seemingly designed to annoy the USMNT Twitter hive, Gregg Berhallter went with the opposite on Thursday, picking what the Extremely Online folk might consider ideal given the players available.

I naturally prefer the latter, but any sort of hybridized lineup would be fine by me (the “youth over everything, forget MLS” crowd makes some solid points, but is mostly embarked on a tedious, unrealistic, and would-be unsuccessful endeavor). The availability of winger Paul Arriola, who left the opener with a thigh injury, and right back Reggie Cannon, who has yet to see the pitch as he works back from injury, will be the primary X-factors in terms of adding quality at the top of the lineup.

From a Nashville SC perspective, seeing Walker Zimmerman start and go the distance and perform well against a good-not-great-Canada lineup would be yet another step forward in what has already been a very good Gold Cup for him. He’s unlikely to match directly up with his club teammate much (even if he plays wingback, Johnston would be attacking the left side of the USMNT’s backline, whereas Zimmerman has played on the right), so let’s see him get out there and rule, yeah?


United States 2, Canada 1

May Walker Zimmerman and Alistair Johnston both play well and remain uninjured, while the Americans earn the top spot in the group.

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