LOS ANGELES — United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter welcomed his squad’s relatively tricky CONCACAF Gold Cup slate after learning the three group stage opponents — Panama, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago — that the USMNT will face during this summer’s regional championship.
Berhalter also did his best to play down the June 22 rematch with T&T, the team that famously shocked the Americans in October of 2017 to end a run of seven consecutive World Cup appearances. The U.S. will play the Soca Warriors in their second match of the first round.
“That’s always going to be an element of that game,” Berhalter said of the revenge angle, following the schedule reveal at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium. “But for us, it’s about taking that emotion out of that game and performing. We know when we play Trinidad, we’ll have an opportunity to put ourselves in a position to advance.”
U.S. legend Landon Donovan, on the other hand, had a different take on the meeting.
“I’d be pissed. I’d be ready for that game,” said Donovan, the leading scorer in Gold Cup history who participated in Wednesday’s presentation.
“It’s never going to make up for what happened,” he added. “But it would be nice to just sort of bury that chapter in our history.”
The defending Gold Cup champion United States, which will co-host the 2019 event (first-round matches will also take place in Costa Rica and Jamaica), was dealt perhaps the toughest of the four groups. It’s the only one that includes two other teams that reached the final “Hexagonal” round of regional World Cup qualifying last cycle.
Panama, which went to Russia 2018 instead of the U.S., will meet the Americans in an eight consecutive Gold Cup. They almost always plays the Americans tough.
The USMNT topped the Canaleros 2-0 in January in Berhalter’s first game at the national team helm. But with European- and Mexican-based players in the middle of their club seasons, both sides fielded shorthanded lineups drawn from the countries’ respective domestic leagues
“That’s a really tough game,” said the 37-year-old Donovan, who retired from the U.S. team in 2014 and currently plays for the indoor San Diego Sockers. “Physically they’re a handful. And they’re good players. They’re experienced, savvy. So it’s a tricky matchup always.”
Guyana, competing in its first Gold Cup, is FIFA’s 175th-ranked team. But even the little northern South American nation (pop. 778,000) will present challenges, according to Berhalter.
“I know the coach is a longtime pro in England and I know he’s going to get that team to compete,” Berhalter said of manager Michael Johnson and the Guyanas. “It’s going to be a team with a lot of spirit and we have to be prepared.”
Overall, though, Berhalter liked the hand the Americans were dealt Wednesday — especially with traditional CONCACAF powers Costa Rica and chief rival Mexico possibly looming in the knockout stage.
“It’s a challenging group,” Berhalter said. “I think there’s going to be some good opponents. And it’s going to prepare us. We know that when we get through this group, we’re going to be prepared for what’s next.”
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