- No win in a Gold Cup will make up for the USA's infamous defeat in October 2017 to Trinidad and Tobago, but victory in the rematch can help Gregg Berhalter's rebuilding project move forward in the midst of Concacaf's championship.
Maybe the Germans have a word for it. After all, they’re well known for being innovative on both the linguistic and footballing fronts.
Because there has to be a better way to frame Saturday’s second game of the Concacaf Gold Cup group stage than “revenge,” even though at least a couple significant U.S. players have tried. Their meaning is obvious, and it’s not their fault the lexicon is limited. But “revenge” still isn’t the right word. After all, Trinidad & Tobago’s national team didn’t harm its American counterpart in any way. The World Cup qualifying wound suffered 20 months ago in Couva was entirely, 100% self-inflicted.
But this Gold Cup is still just getting started, and the group stage typically has been more of a perfunctory prelude for the USA. Plus, during a Women’s World Cup and Copa América summer—and absent a Confederations Cup invitation—we’re all still trying to figure out how much another Concacaf tournament really means in the big picture.
So, if “revenge” helps motivate the favored USA (1-0-0) in Saturday night’s game against T&T (0-1-0) in Cleveland, or gets more people to pay attention, so be it. For American soccer, no result will ease the sting and embarrassment of missing the 2018 World Cup. But three points should secure a spot in the 2019 Gold Cup quarterfinals.
Six members of coach Gregg Berhalter’s 23-man squad were there in Couva in the fall of 2017 and five—Jozy Altidore, Paul Arriola, Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez and Christian Pulisic—appeared in the 2-1 loss. Tim Ream was a reserve. For Bradley, the 31-year-old captain who’s played in two World Cups, that’s enough to declare this U.S. group a “totally different team.”
Speaking to reporters following Tuesday’s tournament-opening 4-0 win over Guyana, Bradley said, “I’m not sure other than it being a nice narrative for you guys, I’m not sure inside of the group [Couva] carries a whole lot of weight.”
Pulisic and Arriola haven’t played in World Cups, however, and missed out on a chance to go to their first. For them, Saturday’s match could come with a little something extra.
Upon arriving in camp prior to the June 9 friendly against Venezuela, Pulisic acknowledged that beating T&T in Cleveland is “not going to change anything.” But, he told reporters, “Obviously, I want some revenge. I want to beat them. The team is going to go out and give it everything. We want to win that game.”
Assuming Panama (1-0-0) dispatches Guyana (0-1-0) on Saturday (Panama beat Trinidad, 2-0, in their opener), a U.S. win in Cleveland would knock the Soca Warriors out of the Gold Cup. After a solid one goal and one assist performance against Guyana, Arriola already was thinking about that potential symmetry.
“I think there’s a little bit of feeling and understanding [about qualifying] but for me, it’s the second game of the Gold Cup,” he said. “It’s a game that can really provide us with certainty going into the last game. More than anything, I think that’s kind of the way I’m looking at it. It would be good to get revenge if we’re able to go ahead of [Trinidad] and finish the group after that with a tough game against Panama.”
Overall, he added, whether or not there’s a slice of Couva in Cleveland is “just the opinion of each person. For me, you know, it will be a little different than other players, I’m sure. But it’s the second game of the group stage that we have to win and really solidify our spot in the group.”
And the USA should win. Trinidad hasn’t won a game since last September (their only victory since Couva), and coach Dennis Lawrence’s team features just one player—Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino—whose international goal total reaches double digits. On Tuesday, the Soca Warriors didn’t take one shot from inside the Panamanian penalty area or put a single shot on frame. There will be no excuses for the USA in Cleveland, just like there were none 20 months ago.
Thanks to Arriola and newcomer Tyler Boyd, who scored twice, Berhalter got most of what he wanted out of U.S. wing play against Guyana. While the back four wasn’t tested much, the midfield trio of Bradley, Pulisic and Weston McKennie—if they start together again—has room to improve. Each had individual highlights Tuesday, but there also were moments of disconnect. Bradley can’t be left alone–again–to deal with Trinidad’s counter, but the U.S. likely will be more wary of the danger. And he and Pulisic should look fresher after a few extra days of training. Both were coming off layoffs and were removed midway through the second half against Guyana in planned substitutions.
McKennie, who set up Arriola’s goal, came off later Tuesday with what Berhalter said was a thigh cramp. “Weston should be O.K.,” the manager said following the win. If that’s the case, then the most likely lineup change is up top, where Gyasi Zardes scored against Guyana but struggled with his touch and hold-up play. Waiting in the wings is Altidore.
“Jozy’s a player that is getting up to full speed. I think he’s done a great job this camp,” Berhalter said. “He’s exceeded every expectation we had of him—really working hard, great team guy, and we’re excited to start integrating him.”
Altidore, of course, became one of the faces of the Couva nightmare after a sluggish performance. Maybe he has revenge or redemption on his mind, even if neither is available in Cleveland. What is there for the taking is a quarterfinal berth, which would be the best way to continue the start of this new national team era.