“We're not defending the Gold Cup, we're attacking it.”
That was how US men’s national team veteran DeAndre Yedlin defined his side’s mentality in the countdown to their Group A opener on Saturday night, a date with Jamaica at Chicago's Soldier Field (9:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision).
It echoes interim head coach B.J. Callaghan’s advice to his players at the start of a summer in which they seek to keep hold of both the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup trophies. And with the first of those goals achieved in impressive fashion in Las Vegas last weekend, the bar has been set for the almost-entirely-new group now gathered in the Windy City.
“That's our mindset going into it,” added Yedlin, an Inter Miami CF fullback. “That's how we want to play every game. We want to be aggressive, we want to dominate the games just as the group that was involved in Nations League did.”
The United States have won two of the last three Gold Cups and, even with only five holdovers from the CNL roster, the goal remains to win every honor Concacaf has to offer.
A dangerous opponent
The USMNT do recognize that this tournament is a different beast from CNL. Their Gold Cup opener pits them against arguably one of the most dangerous adversaries in it, a Reggae Boyz group that didn’t reach the Nations League knockout phase and thus can call on many dual-national players based in the English Premier League like West Ham’s Michail Antonio, Bobby Reid of Fulham FC and Demarai Gray, the Everton attacker just recruited away from England.
“I don't think it's any secret in our camp that this is probably the most talented Jamaican team that we're going to face,” said Callaghan in Friday’s matchday-1 press conference. “You have tons of experienced players, young players, and also players that have performed really well in the Gold Cup over a lot of years for them.
“With the new coach, they're organized, obviously with the infusion of talent they're looking like they’re playing like a team. And I think the main things you see, on offensive transition can be a threat, offensive set pieces can be a threat, and for me even in their build-up, there's a lot of threats in terms of on the wings. And if you’re looking at defending the wide areas, then you have to worry about the stable of strikers that they have.”
Callaghan called Atlanta United center back Miles Robinson's availability "a gameday decision" as he recovers from what's been described by various media reports as a hamstring or calf injury. Both Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Julian Gressel and Jamaican defender Ethan Pinnock look unlikely to play on Saturday due to the circumstances around their partners giving birth or being very close to doing so.
Jamaica's new coach alluded to by Callaghan is former Iceland manager Heimir Hallgrímsson, a key figure in his homeland’s rise from UEFA obscurity to 2016 Euros and 2018 World Cup participants. While he’s yet to win in seven matches since taking over the Reggae Boyz, and Jamaica have never won the Gold Cup, the infusion of overseas-based talent has raised expectations in the island nation.
Hallgrímsson, though, made it clear he sees the USMNT as a daunting opponent.
“I don't think their philosophy of playing will change in these few days, even though the squad is a little bit different from the Nations League,” said the Icelander. “They will play aggressive 4-3-3 [formation]; impressive in the World Cup, impressive in the Nations League. So we know what we will be facing: a really young, energetic, mobile team that will try to come high on the pitch and suffocate us in the buildup. So we have to be ready for that and I think we are.
“They have all their players now in midseason, so they are fit. Their fitness level is always high, but I think at this stage they are probably the fittest team, because it's all MLS players, or mostly MLS players that are in season. So yeah, we will have to be ready from minute one, because they will come at us with players in good shape and good fitness wanting to show themselves to get into the future of the national team of US.”
Andre Blake, the Philadelphia Union and Jamaica goalkeeper who will be taking part in his fifth Gold Cup, might be an X-factor against the USMNT with his experience and shot-stopping expertise. On Friday Hallgrímsson, Callaghan – who worked with Blake at the Union before moving on to the national team staff – and Reid paid warm tribute to the University of Connecticut product.
“He's a leader. He's obviously been there since the first day I came into Jamaica squad and he's been cool with me and cool with a lot of other players,” said Reid of the reigning Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. “He really lets you know what the culture’s about and how we do things. He sets it straight and everyone falls into place and understands. He has a lot of experience on the international level, and he does big things over here in America, so we're proud of what he's doing.”