The dust settles in CONCACAF

Jamaica’s Kevon Lambert (17) and El Salvador’s Ivan Mancia (5) leap to make a header during a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match in San Antonio, Sunday, July 16, 2017.
Associated Press / Eric Gay

The dust has settled after the preliminary round of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup and there are no surprises among the eight teams, from the original 12, that have advanced to the quarterfinal stage this week. The quarterfinal doubleheaders get under way on Wednesday, July 19, 6 pm at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia when Group A winner Costa Rica takes on Group B second-place finisher, Panama; and in that nightcap, Group B winner USA goes against Group C third-place team, El Salvador. The winners here would battle in the first semifinal, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (TX), on Saturday, July 22, 10 pm ET.

The other quarterfinal doubleheader kicks off on Thursday, July 20, 7:30 pm at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. In the first game, Jamaica, second in Group B, battles Canada, the second in Group A, and in the second contest, Mexico, Group C winner will take on Group A third placed team Honduras. The winners play in the semifinal on Sunday, July 23, in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The 2017 CONCACAF Final is set for Wednesday, July 26, 9:30 pm at Levi Stadium in San Francisco (CA).

This stage of the tournament is do-or-die; it’s a single elimination tournament now, and all the teams have made use of the rules that allows for reinforcements to strengthen their squads. No team has made more changes than the USA. It’s a reflection of the struggles the U. S. experienced in its three preliminary games so far and the pressure building on the home team to win the tournament, especially with the resumption of the World Cup qualifying games in a month.

Panama always created problems for the U.S., as we saw in the teams’ last World Cup qualifier on the road, when the Americans stumbled to a 1-1 draw – ditto the opening game of this Gold Cup tournament. Ho hum performances were the trademark of the U.S. against Martinique and Nicaragua, its other Group B opponents. In the Martinique contest, the U.S. fumbled to a 3-2 win; Martinique twice recovered from 1-0 deficits to tie the U.S. before the Americans outlasted the French with a late goal. Going into the game versus Nicaragua, the U.S. had to win by three goals to win the group and only got the third goal, 3-0, with less than five minutes to play.

The Americans play El Salvador in this knockout stage and an early exit will be an embarrassment to the Americans and a setback with the World Cup qualifiers looming. So, in comes goalkeepers Tim Howard and Jesse Gonzalez, forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, midfielders Darlington Nagbe, Michael Bradley. Commenting on the move, U.S. coach, Bruce Arena said: “I think we are bring in some experienced players, players of quality, and that only helps our team.” Arena knows the expectations placed on his leadership, expectations of winning the Gold Cup — especially against the backdrop of the 2015 debacle when the U. S., under former coach Jurgen Klinnsman, finished a disappointing fourth. Nothing less than a Gold Cup final win is expected of the USA.

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