Commentary: US national team faces clear road through hospitable venues to Gold Cup glory
The road to revenge against border rivals Mexico is clear for the US national team in this summer's Gold Cup.
CONCACAF released group and schedule information for the nationwide tournament on Wednesday, revealing that the region's two dominant powerhouses will face straightforward tasks to proceed through the group and are unlikely to meet until the semifinal or final stages.
Drawn into Group C, USA will open group play against Cinderella qualifiers Belize on July 9 at what promises to be a packed, raucous JELD-WEN Field in downtown Portland, Ore.
Interestingly, this game figures to be the USMNT's first match on artificial turf under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, with Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson having publicly (via his Twitter feed) announced his disinclination to lay down temporary grass over the stadium's fieldturf surface for international games.
Four days later, the Yanks will host Cuba at another intimate MLS venue, Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, before meeting Costa Rica at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., their only game in the group stage which holds any possibility of anything less than a strongly pro-US crowd.
The trip to Utah should be the USA's second visit of the summer, as sources have confirmed to MLSsoccer.com recent reports suggesting that the June 18 qualifier against Honduras will also take place at Rio Tinto.
The Hartford match is the USA's third scheduled clash of the year with the Ticos, who visit Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., for a pivotal World Cup qualifier on March 22. The return Hexagonal date is Sept. 6.
Klinsmann is expected to field something of a “B” team in the Gold Cup, though a gap in the Hexagonal qualifying calendar means that he and his staff could mix in some first-team regulars depending on club schedules. Regardless of the personnel, however, this kind draw bolsters the usual perception that anything less than a Gold Cup championship – or at the very least, a semifinal run – would mean substantial underachievement.
“We are excited about this summer’s Gold Cup,” said Klinsmann in a Wednesday press release. “The tournament improves every cycle and the level gets better and better. As the host country, we get to play in different venues across the country, which is great for our fans. At the end of the day, we want to do well and make sure people understand that we want to be dominant in our region. Our goal is to win the competition.”
Meanwhile, Mexico are the unquestioned favorites of Group A and will probably play all three of their matches in front of very friendly crowds at large stadiums in Pasadena, Calif., Seattle and Denver.
Mexico vanquished the USA 4-2 at the Rose Bowl in the championship final of the Gold Cup's last edition two years ago, a result which was soon followed by the dismissal of Yanks head coach Bob Bradley in favor of Klinsmann.
The top two finishers from each of the Gold Cup's three groups advance to the knockout stages, as do the top two of the third-place teams. Assuming they take their groups' top spots as expected, Mexico and the USA will meet the third-place qualifiers in quarterfinal clashes at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, respectively.
That paves the way for yet another high-profile, high-stakes battle between El Tri and the Stars and Stripes in a year which already features two such occasions.