USA Soccer Wins Gold Cup Group B – What’s Next?

bruce-arena-us-soccerTeam USA didn’t have a great start to their Gold Cup group play. They began with an uninspiring draw against Panama and a surprisingly close 3-2 victory over Martinique.

Had the US struggled against Nicaragua, it would’ve been cause for upheaval. Lucky for America, they notched a 3-0 win over their lowly opponents and will move on after winning Group B.

What’s next for USA soccer in the knockout rounds?

Let’s cover their chances along with how coach Bruce Arena made wholesale changes after the disappointing Gold Cup start.

US Avoids Costa Rica in Quarterfinals

After Panama beat Martinique 3-0 in their final Group B match, the US knew they had to get a big victory to win their group on points. Going further, winning the group helps them avoid playing Costa Rica in the quarterfinals.

America needed to beat Nicaragua by at least 3 goals, and they did exactly that. Even in what’s been a down Gold Cup, USA did what needed to be done.

Rather than having to face a veteran Costa Rica squad, they’ll face the region’s third-place finisher in Philadelphia. And while the US has to face tough teams at some point if they want to reclaim the Gold Cup, they’d rather do it later.

Complete Overhaul Against Nicaragua

Arena had seen enough of the previous unit that struggled against Martinique and Panama. He made a surprising move by replacing all 11 players in his starting lineup in hopes of avoiding a Gold Cup disaster. Some of these changes included goalkeeper Bill Hamid making his tournament debut, and midfielder Chris Pontius getting his first start after subbing against Martinique.

Aside from overhauling the roster in hopes of more success, Arena can also evaluate more players. After all, the 2018 World Cup is only one year away, and USA needs to do a lot of work if they’re to compete in Russia. Arena will now have a wider range of talent to look at.

Win over Nicaragua wasn’t Pretty

While the box score might’ve looked good against Nicaragua, the actual game wasn’t very impressive. For the third straight match, America played down to the level of their competition.

Specifically, they missed scoring chances, committed poor turnovers, and looked out of sync. The only thing they did right was hustle enough and get the three goals they needed to avoid a tougher quarterfinals opponent.

Nicaragua was the weakest team in Group B. So the US can’t rejoice too much over their 3-0 victory.

The Stars are Joining Team USA

Arena is definitely getting serious after bringing in the big names like Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and Tim Howard. The coach tired of seeing his team struggle against smaller, less-talented teams. So he brought in the big guns for the knockout rounds.

Arena tried sugar-coating his team’s performance after the first two matches.

tim-howard-usa-goalie“I thought the team played well in the last game, and we’re very close to having a very dominating performance,” Arena said last week.

“So I thought in game two of group play, that the team played well. Game one was not our best game, but give Panama credit as well, and the same to Martinique.”

But Arena’s actions show a different story after replacing much of the squad that struggled so badly against Panama and Martinique.

Maybe if the US showed better form against these teams, they could’ve left their best players at home and gotten the youth more experience. But the poor performances forced Team USA to bring their best replacement options in as the tournament gets serious.

Bright Spots for the Knockout Rounds

graham-zusi-usaWhile the US hasn’t played great, the Nicaragua win did allow some players to prove themselves.

Specifically, Graham Zusi and Jorge Villafana showed that they deserve starts in the knockout rounds. Kelyn Rowe and Dom Dwyer also showed that they deserve a longer look too.

Nevertheless, Arena would still like to see his team play a little tighter as they move on in the Gold Cup.

“When we have a lot of possession of the ball, we need to keep our concentration,” said the coach. “At times we got caught on the break a little bit. We’re a little bit sloppy on a couple of occasions, and it cost us. So we need better concentration and a better collective effort from our team.”

What about Mexico and Costa Rica?

javier-hernandez-mexico-world-cupNot long ago, many expected Mexico to be heavy Gold Cup favorites. But El Tri have looked just as shaky as the US, also bringing in knockout round replacements.

As mentioned before, nobody wants to play Costa Rica. But it’s not like they’re heavy favorites either. The Ticos played Canada to a draw and only beat Honduras 1-0. Costa Rica may be slight favorites over USA and Mexico, but we emphasize “slight.”

Gold Cup Odds & Betting

If you’re interested in betting on the Gold Cup knockout rounds, be sure to visit our GTBets Gold Cup page. With so much still unsettled among the favorites, you can find good value in the knockout rounds. That said, check out our lines as this tournament heads towards its biggest matches.