The U.S. men’s national team had a twofold purpose heading into Tuesday’s game that was both uncomplicated and complex.
On the straightforward side, the aim was to advance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a tournament that decides the best team in the Caribbean and North and Central Americas. On the grander scale, the team had just a bit more to prove.
“Honestly, I think everyone that is here right now, we know what our end goal is,” midfielder Weston McKennie said pregame. “Obviously, we want to make a different picture on U.S. Soccer than maybe what other countries or people may view.”
The U.S. might not have achieved its objective yet, but it certainly started on its way with a 4-0 defeat of Guyana at Allianz Field in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,418.
Guyana might be the lowest-ranked team in this competition, but that’s still a welcome win for the U.S., which came off two recent exhibition shutout losses to teams with little to no World Cup experience. Speaking of that, that’s the reason why U.S. Soccer has a bit of an image problem lately: Back in October 2017, the men’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup for this first time since 1986.
It’s a crushing setback that has plagued the team ever since. And while the Gold Cup isn’t the World Cup, Tuesday was the first meaningful match the U.S. had played since that qualification devastation.
Guyana coach Michael Johnson said it was part of his game plan for his outmatched team to try to stay within a goal of the U.S. at the hour mark because he knew “the crowd would potentially turn against” the U.S. because of its recent track record.
That didn’t happen. The U.S. scored first in the 28th minute from forward Paul Arriola, who fired the ball past Guyana goalkeeper Akel Clarke after a great run and pass from Weston McKennie. Arriola is the only player to have played every game under U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, who has been in charge for seven since he took the helm in December.
Berhalter is the latest in a coaching carousel for the men’s team, and many saw this Gold Cup as the first true test of his passing and possession system. He called this win “a decent starting point and not much more than that.”
“A first game of a tournament is always a little bit nervy,” Berhalter said. “… We told the guys, ‘Enjoy the experience. It’s competition time.’ And I felt that we slowly got out of the nerves and started playing.”
The U.S. certainly performed in the second half. Tyler Boyd scored in the 51st minute. Gyasi Zardes then scored in the 55th minute but only because a Guyana player’s clearing header ended up ricocheting the ball off his noggin. Another strike from Boyd in the 81st minute finished the scoring.
The U.S. plays again Saturday in hopes of advancing out of Group D to the knockout rounds. That game will be a rematch with Trinidad and Tobago, the team the U.S. lost to all those months ago to keep it out of the World Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago lost the earlier game at Allianz Field 2-0 to Panama but, as McKennie said, no team in the Gold Cup “can be slept on.” Though ultimately, redemption is all up to the U.S.
“Whatever we do and whatever we bring out to the field, I think it will be a good performance for us,” McKennie said pregame. “I think we’ll be all right.”