USMNT celebrate Gold Cup goal vs. Trinidad
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

USMNT with clear objective heading into semifinals: Gold Cup title or bust

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Now that the business end of the Concacaf Gold Cup has arrived, US national team manager Gregg Berhalter neither wants, nor expects his team to be graded on a curve.

The next evaluation of his first competition in charge of the USMNT comes in Wednesday’s semifinal against Jamaica (9:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision, UDN), where the US will try to avenge a 1-0 friendly defeat that came exactly four weeks prior. 

Even though that loss — combined with a jolting 3-0 friendly defeat to Venezuela four days later — may have lowered some outside expectations, Berhalter still insists that anything but repeating as Gold Cup champs represents falling short.

“We’ve said all along the success of this team will be measured by if we’re going to win this tournament or not,” Berhalter said in Tuesday’s pre-match press conference. “We want to get to the final. We want to win the final. And if you asked me a month ago, the answer would still be the same.”

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Berhalter’s team have only sometimes looked the part, however. Their 6-0 dismissal of Trinidad & Tobago to secure passage to the quarterfinals was their most impressive result, and one of their two largest in tournament history. Their 1-0 quarterfinal win Sunday over Curacao was their least inspiring, and arguably even fortunate.

Then there’s the Jozy Altidore matter. Easily the most accomplished forward on the roster, Altidore played in only one match, scoring the winner in a 1-0 triumph over Panama that featured massive squad rotation on both sides.

Berhalter acknowledged a hamstring issue was “relevant” to how Altidore has been used so far, but refuted any implication that he wasn’t currently match fit.

“Jozy is exactly where we need him to be,” Berhalter said. “He’s been ready to play.”

He made no indication whether he was leaning toward Altidore or Gyasi Zardes at striker Wednesday.

Whatever questions have surrounded Berhalter’s first major tournament as an international coach, it’s not as though the US are the only traditional regional power to look vulnerable.

Mexico only beat Martinique 3-2 in their final group stage match and Costa Rica took El Tri to penalties. The Ticos were forced to play Mexico in the quarterfinals after they were beaten in dramatic fashion by tournament darlings Haiti.

Jamaica, themselves back-to-back Gold Cup finalists, also settled for a 1-1 draw against a Curacao team that had never previously reached the knockout stages.

Perhaps with an eye on all of that, US winger Paul Arriola suggested it’s as much about what’s going on behind closed doors that makes he and his teammates believe that it’s trophy or bust.

“I think the amount of work that we put in, and the amount of understanding and feel that we have within the group, we’re made for success, especially in a tournament in our own region,” Arriola said. “You want to be talked about as a giant and the best team in your region. This is the time to prove it.”

Goalkeeper Zack Steffen agreed, albeit in fewer words.

“Our fans want it. We want it,” Steffen said of the Gold Cup trophy. “And that’s what we’re focused on.”