The U.S. men’s national team grinded its way to three points in its opening match of the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup on Sunday against Haiti, a performance that Gregg Berhalter conceded wasn’t good enough as the USMNT coach made it clear he hopes to see better from his team going forward.
The Americans face off against Martinique at Children’s Mercy Park on Thursday looking to pick up a second victory in Group B before this weekend’s showdown with Canada to close out group stage play. After managing just one goal against the Haitians, the USMNT will be looking to up the tempo against Martinique, a clear underdog that finds itself in a must-win situation to avoid elimination from the Gold Cup.
“We just want to continue to improve, continue to get better,” Berhalter said in a conference call on Wednesday. “This is a young group of players who haven’t had a lot of time to work with one another on this big of a stage. For us, the goal is to keep getting better. By no means did we think on our first game would we be the finished product, but we still have more opportunities in front of us.”
Although the USMNT walked away with only one goal to its name on Sunday night, it did have plenty of impressive individual performances from Shaq Moore, Kellyn Acosta and Gianluca Busio. All three are among the USMNT players who are not only looking to help the Americans win the Gold Cup, but also fighting to earn a place with the full USMNT squad when World Cup qualifying begins in September.
“Not to overlook this tournament, but I think this Gold Cup is important for me and a lot of players on the roster,” USMNT defender Walker Zimmerman said. “Playing well and getting an opportunity to play for a trophy is huge and I think winning Gold Cup will probably help the stock of myself and others in this group.”
The USMNT did well to limit Haiti in Sunday’s victory, holding the Caribbean side to three shots on goal out of 10 in total. Now the focus changes to a Martinique squad that lost 4-1 in its opening match to Canada, and is an unfamiliar group to the Americans in general.
Thursday will be the third-ever meeting between the two countries, with the previous two also coming in the Gold Cup. Gyasi Zardes and Kellyn Acosta both started against Martinique in a 3-2 win back in 2017 while Brad Guzan featured in goal for the group stage victory.
Martinique may not pose a lot of household names on their roster, but it is a team that has worked hard to earn to this opportunity against one of Concacaf’s best.
“We prepared for them like we do every other opponent which is respecting them, we look at their strengths and weaknesses,” Berhalter said. “Martinique is a good team, they have some good attacking players, Fortune on the left wing is a good dribbler, Riviere is a good forward who played in Serie A.
“They also have some veteran centerbacks, it’s an older team with experience, and it’s going to be a difficult game so we aren’t expecting an easy game by any means.”
“They are a great team and we cannot afford to get overconfident in ourselves,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not a friendly, it’s a cup competition and we are trying to win it. They are coming off of a loss so they know that they need a result to try and get out of the group.
“We expect a lot of intensity from them and for us we hope to have more of the ball and try and break them down,” Zimmerman said. ” It will be about having more intensity than them.”