USA vs. Ghana
Saturday, July 1 – 4:45 pm ET
Pratt & Whitney Stadium – East Hartford, Connecticut
TV: ESPN, UniMás, UDN (pregame 4 pm ET) | Follow on the MLS App
With the rocky start to the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying smoothed out by two wins and two draws under Bruce Arena, the US national team and their supporters can turn towards the Gold Cup with lighter hearts and open minds. Arena has called in a roster heavy with new and less-familiar faces, most of them from MLS, with plans to use the tournament as a proving ground ahead of the final Hex matches and next summer's big event in Russia.
Speaking of big events, what better way to kick off the countdown to the World Cup than by hosting the Yanks' recurring nemeses of that tournament?
Ghana and the USMNT have faced off in three straight World Cups, first in group play at Germany 2006 (a 2-1 Black Stars win), then in the Round of 16 in South Africa four years later (another 2-1 Ghana victory, on this occasion via extra time), before the Yanks finally took revenge with a 2-1 win of their own in both teams' opening match at Brazil 2014.
The two soccer nations have continued to grow more familiar with one another over the years. A rising number of Ghanaians now play in MLS and since 2015 the league's matches have been broadcast on Fox Sports Africa. Black Stars coach James Kwesi Appiah has duly used his team's US tour to run the rule over some North American-based players, with five MLSers and an NASL standout called in for friendly meetings with Mexico (who defeated Ghana 1-0 in Houston on Wednesday) and the USMNT.
The 23-man group that Arena gathered in Nashville, Tennessee this week includes brand-new faces, a few familiar vets and even a blast from the past or two. There's long-overlooked types like Dax McCarty, Matt Hedges and Eric Lichaj. The completely new arrivals named Dom Dwyer and Kenny Saief, freshly eligible to represent a new country. And the reassuring sight of dependable contributors like the Sporting Kansas City duo of Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, and Alejandro Bedoya and Brad Guzan.
Arena's job is to give as many as them as possible a chance to make a positive impression, while also mounting a credible challenge for the Gold Cup trophy. Even with a new-look roster, the tournament's hosts will carry real hopes of winning it after the disappointment of a fourth-place finish two years ago. (It also helps that co-favorites Mexico are taking a similar approach with their roster selections.)
“We have a large number of domestic players because our European-based players need a break," Arena told ussoccer.com. “They had long seasons plus the June World Cup qualifiers, so they needed a break and then they need to start their preseasons in July.
“We want to continue to build on what we started in January and improve the program. Hopefully we find other players that can compete for spots for the camps in September and October, and then players that will continue to move forward and can possibly envision being part of our team in Russia in 2018.”
Saturday marks Yanks' only tuneup before they kick off their Gold Cup campaign vs. Panama on July 8.
If US fans think their World Cup road has been bumpy, they should consider the perilous position the Black Stars find themselves in as African qualifying winds towards its end.
Ghana's streak of three straight World Cup berths is under real threat thanks to an 0-1-1 start to the third and final round of CAF's process, which has pitted them against Egypt, Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville. Appiah's side sit in third place with four games to go, with only the group winner advancing to Russia 2018.
Early September will bring a home game vs. Congo and a trip to Brazzaville for the return fixture; both games are must-wins, or close to it. With that sword hanging over their heads, the Black Stars called to this tour are vying for playing time and places in the pecking order, including several MLSers.
With players on both sides hungry to make an impression, Pratt & Whitney Stadium (the home of the University of Connecticut's NCAA football team) figures to be rocking for this friendly.
Oddly enough, the seemingly cosmically-arranged World Cup clashes between these two nations are the only meetings in their history. All three ended 2-1; Ghana triumphed in '06 and '10, aided by a decisive penalty-kick call on the first occasion, and the US held on for a crucial win at Arena das Dunas three years ago. US Soccer has a detailed breakdown of all three matches here.
Players to Watch
USA – Dom Dwyer
This experimental USMNT squad has no shortage of players with little to no national-team experience, but the experience of donning the US kit will hold extra-special meaning for Sporting KC's English-born striker. Written off as a teenager in his native land, he made a fresh start in the US college system, climbing the ladder rung by rung to reach his current position. Saturday could mark his international debut and it's more than just a heartwarming story: Solid contributions this month could vault him way up the depth chart as World Cup 2018 draws closer.
Ghana – David Accam
"King David" is in rare form as he looks to grab this opportunity to turn heads at international level. The Chicago Fire speedster has already bagged 10 goals and six assists in 16 MLS matches this season, including eight strikes in the past two months. The Black Stars player pool is ferociously talented and deep, but Accam has reason to feel like his moment has arrived. It starts with a strong outing in East Hartford.
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
Defenders (8): Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
Midfielders (9):Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kenny Saief (Gent), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Forwards (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)
Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew SC), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor), John Boye (Sivasspor), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew SC), Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa),
Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew SC), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Winful Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution), Kwadwo Poku (Miami FC), Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor)
Forwards: David Accam (Chicago Fire), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC),