KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For some two-plus years, Bob Bradley’s United States team has been branded slow starters, susceptible to absorbing crippling blows early in games.
Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Panama only added fuel to that fire. For the first time in their history, the US find themselves with a loss in Gold Cup group play, fighting for one of eight spots in the quarterfinals and only one game to earn their place.
And although the Americans are certainly focused on getting off to a good start on Tuesday night against Guadeloupe at Livestrong Sporting Park (9 pm ET, Fox Soccer), goalkeeper Tim Howard said they aren’t necessarily buying into the whole slow starter narrative.
“I think it’s kind of elementary, really,” Howard told reporters on Monday. “Everyone wants to start the game well. It doesn’t always happen. The times we haven’t started well it’s probably easy to compile those and say we don’t always start so well. But we’ve also had more than our fair share of games which we’ve dominated and got up on teams.”
Still, the fact remains that the Panamanians took advantage of a lackadaisical first-half performance from the Americans to build a two-goal lead that was shaky at times but held up over 90 minutes.
And unlike Saturday, the US simply can’t afford to be at anything other than their best for all 90 minutes against a Guadeloupe side that still has an opportunity, though slim, to advance as well. Just one slip up could mean the difference between advancing the next round and answering some very tough questions.
By and large, there are very few who don’t see the Americans advancing, but it’s a possibility all the same. For Clint Dempsey, that risk removes any doubt that he and his teammates will come out swinging against an opponent that is talented but thus far undisciplined. Right now, it’s all about getting a win and moving on to the knockout rounds.
“[It’s about] motivation,” Dempsey said. “You have to go out there fighting.”
Fortunately, it seems Bradley’s team has saved its best starts for games following debilitating losses. After Spain administered an unceremonious 4-0 beating in the lead-up to the tournament, the US jumped all over Canada in their opening game, cruising to a 2-0 victory.
They’ll try to replicate that against Les Gwada Boys on Tuesday without losing sight of the fact that there still must be some balance between attack and defense, lest they find themselves with another first-half deficit to overcome.
“We can’t open ourselves up too early, go too crazy, because they’re athletic,” captain Carlos Bocanegra said. “They have some guys who in one-on-one situations isolate you and take advantage of it. We have to be smart in how we push the game without spreading ourselves too thin. We’re going to come out with a lot of energy and push the game, but we have to do that in a smart way so that we’re not vulnerable to counterattacks.”
But they certainly aren’t going to hold themselves back when the opportunity presents itself. By just about every definition, this is a game the US should win, and that will be the aim from the opening whistle on.
“It’s just about being confident, playing our football and we know we have to come out and go for the win,” Dempsey said. “We’ll definitely be motivated and only have ourselves to blame if we don’t get the job done.”