WASHINGTON — The United States national team hasn’t met its own expectations — or those of their fans — with their Gold Cup performances thus far. But like a veteran prizefighter, the squad knows how to take a punch and deliver a few of its own when it counts.
That was the message emanating from the Yanks’ camp at RFK Stadium on Saturday afternoon, where Bob Bradley’s side trained ahead of Sunday’s Gold Cup quarterfinal clash with Jamaica (3 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
The US suffered their first-ever loss in Gold Cup group play last week, a subpar 2-1 loss to Panama, and Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Guadeloupe failed to convince some observers despite featuring an improved overall performance.
That’s all in the rearview mirror for a squad which feels secure in its ability to weather adversity.
“You have to grow during the tournament,” said Bradley. “As much as you’ve been together in the past, when guys come in following long club seasons, or in the middle of MLS seasons, it’s not the same as picking up after the World Cup last year.
“Guys are at different points based upon how the year went — a lot of factors,” the coach continued. “So that ability to come together as a group again during the tournament, improve game by game, deal with different situations that arise. … Those are all the things that need to happen when you get in a tournament.
“I think we came through the group play feeling good that we were tested, that certain things came to light and now, as a group, we’re excited and ready to go.”
Striker Jozy Altidore recalled the United States’ 2009 Confederations Cup run, which started miserably through losses to Italy and Brazil before a 3-0 win over Egypt sparked a thrilling run to the final, while Sacha Kljestan made the comparison to Italy’s World Cup side in 2006, which nearly stumbled out in the group stages before regrouping to become world champions.
“These things happen,” noted Altidore. “It happened to us in the Confederations Cup a few years ago, so we’re used to now taking hits and then moving forward. I think now the important thing is just getting back to what we’re all about in terms of defending, and against these type of teams [like Jamaica], keeping the ball, just trying not to give it away too easily.”
Captain Carlos Bocanegra alluded to the double-edged sword posed by last summer’s achievements in the FIFA World Cup.
“We’re always trying to improve, but we feel in the last four-year cycle, that we raised the level of the national team," the veteran defender said. "I think we raised the expectations of people in this country. We raised our own expectations. And I think now that we’ve gotten to a good level – and it’s hard to see drastic improvements to the level that we’ve gotten — yeah, we’re going to have little improvements, sometimes a few setbacks.
“I think the team is still doing well in the tournament,” Bocanegra added. “Our original goal to get to the knockout stages, OK, it didn’t come exactly how we wanted. We had the loss against Panama and everybody was disappointed. But we give ourselves a great opportunity still, [in the] knockout stages, and our ultimate goal is to win this tournament.”