U.S. plunges into CONCACAF Gold Cup — with something to prove

The overarching goal for the fledgling U.S. men’s soccer team, as frequently stated by new coach Gregg Berhalter, has been to improve the perception of this sputtering program within the hierarchy of global soccer.

Though a strong performance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup probably won’t move the needle much, the Americans surely would benefit, simply, from winning.

Their opening game against Guyana on Tuesday night at Allianz Field in St. Paul, the new home of Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United, will mark the first competitive match for the U.S. since the defeat at Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, 2017, that kept the team for qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. It follows a stretch of 18 friendlies.

“There will be some nerves, but for us, it’s just about continuing to make progress throughout this tournament,” Berhalter said last week after a training session at the National Sports Center in Blaine, a suburb of Minneapolis. “Part of our profession is playing under pressure, playing in big events, and this is a great opportunity for us to learn.”

The 20-month gap between competitive games is the longest for the Americans since a 38-month span following a loss to Costa Rica on May 31, 1985, their final qualifier for the 1986 World Cup.

The U.S. won the biennial Gold Cup in 2017, a sixth title in 14 editions of the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean. Mexico, the clear favorite, has won seven such crowns.

Before any mental energy can be spent on assessing the ability to compete with their border rival, though, the Americans, who are ranked 30th in the world, must advance from the group stage. On the surface, Panama (75th), Trinidad and Tobago (92nd) and Guyana (177th) don’t appear to be daunting competition, but the way the U.S. team played this month in exhibition losses to Jamaica (1-0) and Venezuela (3-0), there will be no guarantees . The Americans are missing injured players DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Tyler Adams.

“If it doesn’t go well, you can just feel that more pressure is going to build, more questions will be asked, more scrutiny will be on Berhalter and the federation,” said former U.S. midfielder Stu Holden, now a Fox analyst.

With the U.S. women leading their side of the world rankings and off to a dominant start in France at the Women’s World Cup, the men’s team won’t be able to avoid the comparison game.

Copa America: Chile, the two-time defending champ, opened its Copa America defense with a 4-0 win over Japan in Sao Paulo. Eduardo Vargas scored two goals to become Chile’s leading career scorer in the South American competition.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/U-S-plunges-into-CONCACAF-Gold-Cup-with-14010001.php.

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