CHARLOTTE, NC – Let the real championship begin.
As much as the US men’s national team might not want to disrespect their Gold Cup Group A partners, there was no real concern of a team failing to advance to the knockout round. Sunday’s dominant 6-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago showed why.
For the United States, the group stage was about integrating players, building relationships, and preparing the team to win a fourth consecutive CONCACAF Cup.
“I think from the very beginning the message has been that we give many players opportunities to experience the group stage,” said interim coach PJ Callaghan on Saturday. “We know from this experience that it will only pay dividends in the short term, but also when we get to the long term.”
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Jesus Ferreira is the best example of this. In the short term, it was the striker’s hat-tricks in the last two matches that allowed the United States to win on goal difference in a tiebreaker with Jamaica to top Group A. These performances are a positive sign of the USMNT’s long-term improvement. depth in position.
During the last World Cup, the striker was a blatant problem for the United States, and no one absorbed the starting role during the qualifiers, and that was the most prominent weakness of the team in the tournament that was held in Qatar.
Ferreira was, of course, part of that equation. It’s not that he played his way into the 26-man World Cup squad so much as other options played their way. However, his inclusion was much debated, and when he finally saw the field – as a starter in the last 16 against the Netherlands – it was a very big stage.
Given the circumstances, his performance wasn’t surprising. The 21-year-old MLS forward being called up to make his World Cup debut against one of the tournament’s most talented backlines inadvertently left him vulnerable. Yet he made a lasting impression that can only come from the sport’s biggest stage.
Since then, Ferreira has responded as best he can. He scored against Mexico in a friendly match in April to preserve the team’s six-game unbeaten streak. He is third in MLS with 10 goals in 18 games. His six goals in three Gold Cup matches equal the record for most goals by a player in the tournament by a player aged 23 or younger (with a possible three appearances to date).
“I think all strikers will be judged by the goals they score first and foremost,” Callaghan said. “And when I see his movement and confidence in the penalty area, you can tell the game has slowed down for him and he’s just putting balls in the back of that and that’s a positive sign. He lets us all know he’s focused and committed to being our scorer.”
There are clear caveats about levels of competition. Three USMNT amateur triple trick tricks in his career, which ties Landon Donovan for the most in team history, all came against outclassed Caribbean competition. This fact is an important context, but it also doesn’t mean that scoring six goals in 88 minutes isn’t worth celebrating.
USMNT players in the past also had chances to score against Concacaf’s lightweight team, and few besides Ferriera took advantage of them. He is the first to score consecutive hat tricks. In 21 career matches, he scored 14 goals. He has also shown to be a selfless player. This trait was a big factor in why coach Greg Berhalter brought him to Qatar. After his hat-trick in the first half put the game out of reach and it was clear the United States would hold on to goal difference in the tiebreaker against Jamaica, Ferreira was perhaps the team’s most active player in trying to win back possession.
“I think that helps the team,” Ferreira said of his defensive effort. “It shows we’re still in it and that kind of gets everyone going again.” “I know people are tired. I’m used to playing in the heat, so maybe I have a little more energy than the rest.
“I always want to be the person who can bring energy into the team and spread that energy. We always say someone can be contagious with their energy, so for me it’s always that person who can push everyone.”
It did not go unnoticed by Callahan.
“All the work he does is leading our line defensively, running back, helping build plays,” Callahan said. “For me, he’s been in a really full championship so far and we’re going to keep improving him.”
Nor does that mean he’s going to dethrone Folarin Balogun as the presumptive player with the full Team USA anytime soon. That doesn’t mean he’s a better choice than his former Dallas teammate, Ricardo Pepe, as a pure forward. However, it encourages continuous improvement of depth in the situation.
There were also memorable performances from other attacking players. Cady Coyle and Gianluca Bosio scored their first goals for the national team as the USA kept the pressure going until the last minute. Coyle’s goal, in particular, showed what he could do, using his speed to break free from goal before slashing past the goalkeeper and lone defender in the box.
“He was relentlessly running down defenders,” Callaghan said of Coyle. “He was able to get in, he was able to get out. He was able to create a team game and then he got the goal.”
As Group A winners, the United States will play Group D runners-up in Cincinnati on July 9. This opponent will be decided on Tuesday, when Guadeloupe (four points) will play Guatemala (four points) and Canada (two points). ) and Cuba (0 points). Of these, only Cuba was eliminated.
Callaghan said Alan Sonora, who strained his hamstring against St Kitts and Nevis, will not continue with the team into the knockout stage, but his list replacement has not been decided. Jordan Morris was available off the bench Sunday and will remain with the team, along with Miles Robinson who started and played the first half.
On Sunday, the team announced that midfielder Aidan Morris had left the team for personal reasons, and it was not clear if he would return during the tournament.