There are logical reasons for the US men’s national team to rotate their lineup and carefully gauge their physical output when they meet Martinique on Thursday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City (10 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, TUDN).
With four straight group-stage exits at the Gold Cup, the small French Caribbean island haven’t advanced to the tournament’s knockout rounds since 2002, and this year’s squad got thumped 4-1 by Canada in their opening match. That same Canada side await the USMNT on Sunday, on paper their toughest matchup of Group B and one that will arrive on less than three days’ rest from the Martinique game.
You won’t catch Gregg Berhalter counting any chickens before they’re hatched, however.
“We give them a lot of respect,” said the US coach of Les Matinino in Wednesday night’s pregame press conference, where he also confirmed that Paul Arriola and Reggie Cannon remain out due to hamstring injuries. “We look at their strengths, we look at their weaknesses, we think about a way that we can hurt them in a way that we won't be hurt. Martinique’s a good team, they have some good attacking players.”
Berhalter alluded specifically to some of Martinique’s European-based talents, several of whom compete at high levels in the French, Spanish and Italian second divisions and/or spent time in France’s youth national team system before representing the island, an overseas department that lacks full FIFA membership.
“[Kevin] Fortune on the left wing is excellent, very good dribbler,” he said. “The forward up front, [Emmanuel] Riviere, really good forward, has played in Serie A. They’ve got experienced center backs. For me, it's an older team, an experienced team and it's going to be a difficult game. We're not expecting an easy game by any means.”
As well-worn as it may be, the USMNT are sticking to a useful old cliché as they work their way towards their main target: A berth in the Gold Cup final, set for Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium on Aug. 1.
“I think the only way to approach it is one game at a time,” said goalkeeper Matt Turner last week when asked about Sunday’s showcase matchup between Major League Soccer’s two home nations. “You talk about Canada – that's our third game in the group.”
The laborious nature of the Yanks’ 1-0 opening win over Haiti – who proved a tough out even while carrying the burdens of recent World Cup qualifying disappointment and political turmoil at home – has likely been cited as proof of the need for measured humility even on home turf.
“They're a great team,” asserted US center back Walker Zimmerman in regards to Martinique. “We cannot go in there and get confident, get ahead of ourselves. Every game in competitive football is difficult. It's not a friendly, and that's what we got to get through our heads. This is a competition.
“Coming off a loss, they're going to be knowing that they have to get a result to make it out of the group, and so they'll come in with a lot of intensity, a lot of effort. We hope to have a lot more of the ball, be able to work them around in possession. But again, it's a competition where anything can happen and we have to come in with the right mindset and intensity to make sure we can come out on top.”