The Concacaf Gold Cup has taken on the form of a college semester for the collection of young talent called in to the U.S. men’s national team, and after having successfully navigated through the pop quizzes of the group stage, the Americans are about to start taking on the kind of tests they can’t afford to fail.
The first of those tests comes Sunday in the Gold Cup quarterfinals against a Jamaica side that has the weapons to make things difficult for the Americans. The U.S. defense will have to make due without central defender Walker Zimmerman, who was forced out of the Gold Cup with a hamstring injury, and that loss could have a major impact on the USMNT’s tactical options.
Gregg Berhalter will have to decide whether to deploy a 4-3-3 system, or stick to the 5-3-2 formation he has used in recent matches. Zimmerman’s departure makes a 4-3-3 more likely given the centerback options available.
The Americans did make one roster move this weekend, announcing the addition of Henry Kessler to the team’s official roster for the remainder of the tournament as Zimmerman’s replacement.
Whichever system the Americans deploy will be tested by a Jamaican attack led by Bundesliga standout and speedy right winger Leon Bailey.
“What I can tell you about Jamaica, it’s going to be a physical team,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said on Saturday. “They’re going to be up for the game. They have a skillful team, good group of players. It’s basically as good as it gets for Jamaica right now, and it’s gonna be a tough test for us.”
Jamaica has been boosted by an infusion of talent from England, which is part of the reason the Reggae Boyz have more European-based players in their Gold Cup setup than the Americans, who have Shaq Moore, Matthew Hoppe, Reggie Cannon and Nicholas Gioacchini as their European-based contingent.
The USMNT and Jamaica have made it a habit of playing each other in the Gold Cup knockout rounds, having faced each other in four of the past five Gold Cups in the elimination rounds, with Jamaica winning just once, in the 2015 semifinals.
While Berhalter has plenty of young options to choose from, he stands a good chance of turning to his more experienced collection of players to step up in the knockout rounds, with Sebastian Lletget, Gyasi Zardes, Kellyn Acosta, Reggie Cannon and Cristian Roldan good candidates to start against Jamaica.
There should be some fresh faces in the lineup as well, including group stage standout James Sands, who has been one of the tournament’s breakout players and will start in the heart of the U.S. defense.
The Americans have already had some tough matches at the Gold Cup in the form of a pair of 1-0 wins against Haiti and Canada, but Jamaica promises to provide an even tougher challenge, especially with the pressure of potential elimination from the Gold Cup hanging over a USMNT squad light on knockout round experience.
“This is an opportunity for our guys to gain experience in a competitive knockout stage of a tournament, and we’re welcoming it,” Berhalter said. “The group is ready and prepared.”