After a comfortable win over Guyana in their Gold Cup opener, the United States will be confident of again emerging victorious against Trinidad and Tobago in the FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio on Saturday (8pm ET, live on FS1, Unimás).
The US and Panama head Group D on three points apiece, with Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana both on zero. If Guyana are unable to pull off a surprise win over Panama earlier in the day, another win for the USMNT on Saturday would see them through to the knockouts.
Not that their progress to the last eight was ever thought to be in doubt. It is necessary to go back to 1985, to their first-ever appearance in the competition, to find the last time United States failed to make it out of the group stage, and back to 2000 for the last time they failed to make it through to the final four. The standard of opposition is generally low.
That much was evident in their opener, despite a spirited and surprisingly assertive performance from Guyana. The US struggled to get going for much of the opening half-hour, but the result was never in doubt once Paul Arriola fired them into the lead on 28 minutes. Overall, they outshot Guyana 16 to four, and eventually won 4-0 thanks to quick-fire goals from Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes early in the second half, and Boyd’s second later on.
It was far from a flawless display from Gregg Berhalter’s side. There were a few defensive lapses, and while there were good individual showings in attack from the two wide forwards Arriola and Boyd, there wasn’t a great deal of fluidity to the team’s collective play. It was a performance and result that simply got the job done.
That is all that needs to be achieved at this stage of the tournament, but it was hard to draw too many concrete conclusions from the match in terms of how well the US will be placed to deal with some of the tougher challenges that will come once they get further along. “The first game of a tournament is always a little bit nervy,” Berhalter said afterwards. “Overall, I think it was a good start.”
In theory, Saturday’s match against Trinidad and Tobago shouldn’t overly stretch the US. Their opponents are, after all, ranked just 103rd in the world by the ELO rankings system (92nd by FIFA), and fell to a 0-2 defeat to Panama in their opening match of the Gold Cup after being outshot 16 to four and only mustering a single effort on target (from outside the area at that).
Neither can the United States possibly forget that it was a 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of the qualifying process for Russia 2018 that saw them miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986. A regeneration process has since been undertaken, but five players (Arriola, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore) involved that day are part of the Gold Cup squad; it hasn’t yet been fully left behind.
This Trinidad and Tobago team came into the Gold Cup on the back of a six-match winless streak that did, though, include a credible 0-0 friendly draw with Japan. Their ranking has dropped off considerably over the last four years (they were positioned as high as 55 in the ELO rankings in November 2015). While they have a few decent players, including Minnesota United’s Kevin Molino, this isn’t an especially strong generation for them.
If the pattern of both of these sides’ first matches in the tournament is replicated in their second, the United States should be expected to outshoot and likely outscore Trinidad and Tobago. The US have won by two or more goals in three of their last six meetings with Saturday’s opponents and can be fancied to again triumph by a similar margin this time around.