The U.S. men's national team will confront its recent demons in the Gold Cup, in a group that features its World Cup qualifying spoiler and an opponent it will face for an eighth straight regional tournament.
The first competitive game of this new U.S. national team era will take place on virgin ground, in a revamped continental championship, against Concacaf Gold Cup debutant Guyana. It’s a fitting start to the first tournament under coach Gregg Berhalter, who’s managed four friendlies since being named to the post in December.
The USA has won the Gold Cup on six occasions, but it’ll be the recent World Cup qualifying failure, Berhalter’s long-awaited appointment, and the ascension of the next generation of American internationals that’ll provide the context for this summer’s continental championship. The schedule and matchups were revealed Wednesday in Los Angeles.
The 15th Gold Cup kicks off for the USA on June 18 at Allianz Field, the new 19,400-seat Minnesota United stadium opening this weekend. Despite pro soccer’s lengthy history in Minnesota, the U.S. men have never played an official senior international in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. From there, Berhalter’s team will head to Cleveland for a meeting with Trinidad & Tobago, the team that sensationally dashed American World Cup hopes 18 months ago. The USA then will close out Group D play against Panama in the more familiar environs of Kansas City.
The USA has lost only one group-stage game in Gold Cup history (to Panama, of all teams). Despite the relative lack of tournament seasoning in Berhalter’s player pool, that run will be expected to continue thanks to the dilution of the competition. For the first time, Concacaf is inviting 16 teams to its biennial championship. And in a top-heavy region, that means the better sides are spread out among four groups instead of three. And it means minnows. This Gold Cup will feature five teams ranked 100th or below by FIFA (not including Martinique, which isn’t a FIFA member).
Individual group-stage games now mean a little more since there will be no third-place finishers in the quarterfinals (a glitch of the old 12-team format), but the overall task should be more forgiving. The knockout-round path also is kind to the Americans, who can’t play either Mexico or Costa Rica until the final.
This summer’s Gold Cup also will be notable for the group-stage matches taking place in Costa Rica and Jamaica. It’s the first time the tournament will be played outside North America. Concacaf also has done away with the expanded team rosters and pre-quarterfinal replacements. Two years ago, U.S. coach Bruce Arena brought in Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard after a somewhat sluggish group stage. They rolled to the title. Berhalter won’t have the same luxury this summer.
Finally, unlike previous Gold Cups, there’s no Confederations Cup carrot (or playoff) awaiting the winner. FIFA has scrapped the anticlimactic tournament for continental champions, meaning the Gold Cup now will have to be its own reward.
For the new coach, who’s only just beginning to implement a plan and forge a new U.S. identity, that reward appears to be sufficient.
“Our objective has to be to try to win the tournament,” Berhalter told ESPN in an interview posted Wednesday. “You don’t know early on how the games are going to play out. But our objective when we bring the group together in May, it’s going to be, we want to compete for a championship.”
Here's a closer look at the Gold Cup groups and what the USA will be facing this summer:
USA vs. Guyana, June 18 at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn.
USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago, June 22 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland
USA vs. Panama, June 26 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Quarterfinal, June 30 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia (if necessary)
Semifinal, July 3 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville (if necessary)
Final, July 7 at Soldier Field in Chicago (if necessary)
Doubleheaders in Pasadena, Calif. (June 15), Denver (June 19), Charlotte (June 23)
FIFA rank: 18; Gold Cup history: 15th appearance. Champion 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2011, 2015.
FIFA rank: 78; Gold Cup history: 14th appearance. Champion 2000.
FIFA rank: N/A; Gold Cup history: 6th appearance. Quarterfinalist 2002.
FIFA rank: 174; Gold Cup history: 9th appearance. Quarterfinalist 2003, 2013, 2015.
Doubleheaders in San José, Costa Rica (June 16), Frisco, Tex. (June 20), Harrison, NJ (June 24)
FIFA rank: 38; Gold Cup history: 14th appearance. Runner-up 2002.
FIFA rank: 100; Gold Cup history: 7th appearance. Quarterfinalist 2002, 2009, 2015.
FIFA rank: 129; Gold Cup history: 3rd appearance. Group stage 2009, 2017.
FIFA rank: T175; Gold Cup history: 1st appearance.
Doubleheaders in Kingston, Jamaica (June 17), Houston (June 21), Los Angeles (June 25)
FIFA rank: 61; Gold Cup history: 14th appearance. Runner-up 1991.
FIFA rank: 56; Gold Cup history: 11th appearance. Runner-up 2015, 2017.
FIFA rank: 71; Gold Cup history: 11th appearance. Quarterfinalist 2002, 2003, 2011, 2013, 2017.
FIFA rank: 82; Gold Cup history: 2nd appearance. Group stage 2017.
Doubleheaders in Saint Paul, Minn. (June 18), Cleveland (June 22), Kansas City, Kan. (June 26)
FIFA rank: 24; Gold Cup history: 15th appearance. Champion 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2017.
FIFA rank: 74; Gold Cup history: 9th appearance. Runner-up 2005, 2013.
Record vs. USA: 1-13-6 overall, 1-5-4 in Gold Cup.
Outlook: The USA and Los Canaleros will meet for an eighth straight Gold Cup in a game that likely will determine the top spot in the group. Their past three Gold Cup meetings have ended 1-1, although the Americans defeated Panama, 3-0, in Berhalter’s debut game back in January. Panama is winless in its past 12 matches dating back a year, including three defeats at the World Cup.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
FIFA rank: 93; Gold Cup history: 10th appearance. Semifinalist 2000.
Record vs. USA: 3-18-4 overall, 0-3-0 in Gold Cup.
Outlook: Revenge really isn’t on the table when the wound was self inflicted, but the qualifying loss to T&T in the fall of 2017 certainly will be the story line heading into the second game. Coach Dennis Lawrence is still on the job (and recently signed an extension), although Trinidad has played just once this year, a 1-0 loss to Wales last month.
FIFA rank: T175; Gold Cup history: 1st appearance.
Record vs. USA: Never met.
Outlook: A surprise Gold Cup qualifier that features several players from England’s lower tiers and a couple more familiar to U.S. audiences: Philadelphia Union midfielder Warren Creavalle and forward Emery Welshman, an Ontario native who’s been on the books with the Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake and FC Cincinnati and will play this season with Hamilton Forge in the new Canadian Premier League.
Group A winner-Group B runner-up, June 29 at NRG Stadium in Houston
Group B winner-Group A runner-up, June 29 at NRG Stadium in Houston
Group C winner-Group D runner-up, June 30 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia
Group D winner-Group C runner-up, June 30 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia
Houston winners, July 2 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Philadelphia winners, July 3 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.
Semifinal winners, July 7 at Soldier Field in Chicago