PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s been six years since the US national team hoisted the CONCACAF Gold Cup trophy. And they want it back very, very badly.
But that chance for the final payoff won’t come for nearly three weeks. First, the US need to get past a Belize team that, despite being one of the biggest underdogs in tournament history, is now doubly motivated by watching Upset Sunday in which minnows Martinique stunned Canada in the dying minutes, followed by Panama sending Mexico to their first Gold Cup loss since the 2007 final.
That makes Tuesday’s task (11 pm ET, Fox Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) much harder than it appears.
“We saw the results yesterday and that’s a good wakeup call,” Landon Donovan told reporters on Monday. “We can’t be complacent. When you play in a group stage where there’s only three games, every game matters immensely. We're very aware of that and we'll be ready to play.”
Jurgen Klinsmann and his coaching staff have studied the Belizeans intensely, centering mostly on their run in January’s Copa Centroamericana that clinched them their first-ever spot in the Gold Cup thanks to heroic defensive stands against regional heavyweights Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. He expects a team on Tuesday that is “difficult to break down” and will require every measure of respect they deserve for reaching the tournament against the odds.
And in Klinsmann’s crash course in CONCACAF play over his two years in charge, he’s also learned that you never, ever underestimate an opponent in this part of the world.
“It can happen to you any day – losing a game in the Gold Cup or in the CONCACAF region,” the US manager said in Monday’s press conference. “It happened to us last year when we went down in Jamaica [in World Cup qualifying], or tied Guatemala in Guatemala.
“So you have to always start every game very focused with the right aggressiveness, with the right approach and that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow night because that’s what we’ll do to respect the opponent.”
For their side, Belize watched both of Sunday’s games and, reports head coach Ian Mork, those results have “probably given our team more confidence.”
“We were kind of hoping to save the David and Goliath story until we played the US,” he joked at Monday’s press conference.
The USMNT aren’t keen to play into that role. Only four players on this current US roster have tasted victory in the Gold Cup: Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley three times (2002, ’05 and ’07), Oguchi Onyewu twice (’05 and ’07) and Michael Parkhurst once (’07). Those four all have been on the losing side as well. Enough is enough, says Beasley.
“We haven’t won it in the last two tournaments,” the US captain said on Monday. “We want to bring it back to America. That’s our motivation, is to win the tournament. It’s very important for us. The players know that – the players with 100 caps, players with 50 caps, players with zero caps. We’re all on the same page to do the job at hand and hopefully take the cup home.
“But obviously it starts one game at a time. We’re not looking to go to Chicago [for the final], we’re looking at Belize for a result.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.