On Tuesday night, the U.S. Men’s National team will open Gold Cup play against Belize (11 pm, Fox Soccer, UniMás, Fox Soccer 2Go). While Belize is a tiny country, and the U.S.—coming off a comprehensive victory over Guatemala in a friendly—will be the heavy favorites, this tournament has already produced some surprises. With Panama’s victory over Mexico, and, most surprisingly, Martinique’s victory over Canada, in the Gold Cup, no team is safe.
With Union hero Jack McInerney not making the 18 for the Guatemala friendly, there has been concern from some that he may not feature during the Gold Cup. While arguments can be made that just being in camp is a good experience for the young striker, fears of a lack of playing time are premature, for two reasons. First, Gold Cup rules allow for a 23-man gameday roster, which provides five more subs slots. Second, Will Bruin’s play on Friday was underwhelming. He was in good positions to score on several occasions, but couldn’t get it done. McInerney is a finisher above all else.
The Belize game is also the perfect opportunity for a young player like Jack to get a run out as a substitute. Belize is likely to provide even less resistance than Guatemala did (though the Belizeans may try a lot harder, truth be told). If the U.S. can get a two- or three-goal cushion, McInerney stands a good chance of seeing the field.
Herculez Gomez is likely to retain his starting spot up front, as are the back five, but the midfield poses some questions.
Against Guatemala, the U.S. midfield became much more effective in the second half, with the introduction of Stuart Holden and Mix Diskerud, and Landon Donovan’s move into the center. Expect those three to start the game.
Brek Shea’s second-half cameo earned him an invite to the Gold Cup proper, in place of the injured Josh Gatt. His performance showed rust, but also his prodigious power and drive. With Edgar Castillo failing to shine, a start for Shea wouldn’t be a surprise.
If Shea doesn’t start, one of Jose Torres and Kyle Beckerman will take his place, with the final midfield spot up for grabs.
Belize, a former British colony, gained independence in 1981, and began playing international soccer in 1995. It has never before played the US. For those who give credence to such things, its current FIFA ranking is 130, making it the weakest team in the region. While not expected to struggle as mightily as Tahiti in in the recent Confederations Cup, Belize will have great difficulty winning games, to say nothing of qualifying for the knock-out stages.
The Belize football president recently said, “I call on our national team to not only beat the United States but to humiliate the United States. It is your responsibility. It is your task.” Such a comment surely did not go unnoticed in the USMNT camp.
While the shellacking of Guatemala may have put visions of sugar plums in many fans’ heads, tournament soccer is a different animal than international friendlies. The U.S. should win, and by multiple goals, but expecting another 6-spot isn’t a good idea. Still, the U.S. wins comfortably, 3–0.