ST. PAUL, Minn. — Guyana manager Michael Johnson believes his team have “absolutely nothing to lose” in their Group D Concacaf Gold Cup opener against the US national team Tuesday night (10 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN, TSN 1/3, Fox Sports GO) at Allianz Field.
Perhaps more importantly, he is keenly aware of the potential for strain on the American camp.
The US are defending Gold Cup champions, playing at home before a sold-out crowd in their first competitive match since their failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They also enter the tournament following a pair of disappointing friendly losses.
“Just being the home nation is one, that brings pressure in itself,” Johnson said at Monday’s press conference. “The fact that they didn’t qualify for the World Cup campaign, that’s another pressure within itself. The last couple of [friendly] games ... there’s pressure now being added to that because of what’s going on. And the US will expect no doubt, Guyana, first game, everybody’s probably turning up here thinking, ‘This is going to be great.’
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“So when you talk about pressure, and it’s not my job to talk about that, because it’s their manager’s, within itself, that’s a pressure environment. All we can do is try our best to go out there and perform.”
While Johnson believes the US losses to Jamaica and Venezuela may play into his opponents’ mentality, he isn’t taking much from the results themselves. Guyana also lost June tuneups against Bermuda and Haiti.
“We never played the correct formation,” Johnson said of those games. “We had players coming in late. We had players coming back up to speed. And it was for reasons that was done. U.S. might be in the same boat. And I can’t comment on their team to say what their team did right or wrong. All I can say is our team, our squad of players, all 23 are in a good place.”
The English-born former Jamaica international referenced the fate of fellow Brit Anthony Joshua to suggest what’s possible. Less than three weeks ago, the heavyweight boxer lost his championship belts to heavy underdog Andy Ruiz.
Johnson’s Guyana are given even longer odds by most sports books.
Captain Sam Cox is among 11 Guyana players in England’s lower divisions. Four more are in the lower levels of the American and Canadian pro structure. Emery Welshman, whose winner in Concacaf Nations League qualifying against Belize sent Guyana to the Gold Cup, is one of three players on a first-division contract outside Guyana, and FC Cincinnati have currently loaned him to a Canadian Premier League club.
All that said, Cox insists he and his teammates aren’t just happy to be competing against the US, Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama in Group D.
“I’ve had this dream inside of me for the last five years now,” Cox said. “I came into the program with dreams of one day qualifying for a major tournament. And now that’s been accomplished.
“We know that if we apply ourselves, hopefully, we feel we can quietly have a confidence about us that we can upset a few people and gain the respect of a lot of people across the world.”