There are a couple of ways to look at the second CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage fixture for the United States Men’s National Team on Wednesday night.
You could see the match in Tampa Bay as one pitting a giant of the region against a Caribbean minnow. Or you could view Wednesday’s clash at Raymond James Stadium as a showdown between the group leaders and a team that gave a lackluster showing in their opening game of the tournament.
To the surprise of most everyone following the action in Group B, the leaders after the first match-day are none other than Martinique, who defeated Nicaragua 2-0 while the U.S. left quite a bit to be desired in a 1-1 draw with a hungry and determined Panama.
While Les Matinino are the only side in the group with three points to their names, the Yanks are still very much the favorites in this encounter. Anything other than a comprehensive win for Bruce Arena’s team will be seen as a disappointment. Martinique meanwhile are relishing the opportunity to upset their American counterparts.
Here is a look at some of the more intriguing narratives going into the contest.
Switching it up: With some seemingly dependable individuals in the American camp offering some insipid showings against Panama, Arena and his staff are sure to bring some new blood to the table against Martinique.
Seattle Sounders youngster Christian Roldan, the 22 year-old creative, attacking midfielder is a player that could feature for the Americans. While Kelyn Rowe of the New England Revolution was instrumental in setting up Dom Dwyer for the lone goal against Panama, his moment of defensive embarrassment that led to the Panamanian equalizer just ten minutes later effectively cancelled out the shininess of the assist. Roldan would be as close as you could get to a like-for-like switch for Rowe in the starting XI.
Club Tijuana’s Joe Corona and Chicago Fire’s Dax McCarty were both underwhelming in the center of the park on Saturday. However, with the way the roster has been constructed for the group stage, it would not be all too surprising to see at least one of those players remain in the lineup against Martinique.
Corona’s Club Tijuana teammate Paul Arriola could make his Gold Cup debut in Tampa Bay, potentially replacing Alejandro Bedoya.
Kellyn Acosta is one of the most interesting storylines heading into Wednesday. The highly touted FC Dallas midfielder had perhaps his worst game in a U.S. shirt against Panama, a performance that inspired Acosta himself to take to Twitter in the hours following the final whistle to share the following statement.
Crap performance..Has to be better.. Thanks for the support as always!
— Kellyn Acosta (@KellynAcosta) July 8, 2017
With ten caps under his belt, the sky is still the limit for the 21 year-old from Plano, Texas. Bad games happen, and it wasn’t as if Acosta was the only American player to put in a poor shift in the muggy heat of Nashville. If given the chance, look for Acosta to have a bounce-back performance against Martinique.
At the back, Omar Gonzalez had a decent match against Panama. The same could not be said for his center-back partner Matt Besler. The Sporting Kansas City man was caught in no man’s land on multiple occasions, including the Panama goal.
With reigning MLS Defender of the Year Matt Hedges, the 27 year-old from FC Dallas, waiting in the wings, along with 21 year-old Matt Miazga, look for Besler to be dropped to the bench for this match, very likely in favor of another Matt. Also look for Nottingham Forrest’s Eric Lichaj to replace Graham Zusi at right-back.
While he may have been the most important man on the pitch against Panama, making seven saves, it is quite possible that U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan will be removed in order to give Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid a chance between the sticks.
Mighty Minnows: One of the most unique storylines of all is that of Martinique’s Gold Cup ambitions in 2017.
Martinique is an insular region, also known as an overseas department of France. Their national team is funded by the French government and football federation. The small island of 385,000 uses the Euro as its official currency and its inhabitants are considered French citizens.
As an overseas department, Martinique is not recognized by FIFA. As a soccer team that played its first official match in 1931, they have never competed in World Cup Qualifying. If they were to somehow make an improbable Gold Cup run all the way to a championship trophy lift in Santa Clara on July 26th, they would be ineligible to represent CONCACAF at the Confederations Cup in 2021.
With all of this bureaucratic discourse comes an elegant simplicity in the Martinique approach in this regional tournament. This is their World Cup. The 2017 Gold Cup is the pinnacle of competition for the majority of Martinique’s players and coaches. These aforementioned stipulations didn’t stop Martinique from making it to the Gold Cup Quarterfinals in 2002, where they were knocked out in heartbreaking fashion, on penalties to Canada.
Les Matinino were dominant against Nicaragua on Saturday, the 2-0 scoreline hardly doing aesthetic justice to their overall performance. The team was led by opening goalscorer Kévin Parsemain, the 29 year-old who currently plays for Golden Lion FC in Martinique’s Championnat National after an interesting trial spell and subsequent signing with the Seattle Sounders in 2014. (Parsemain suffered an ACL injury that same year and never played an MLS match for Seattle before being released by the club in 2015.)
Against the Americans, Martinique will surely look to bunker down and stay behind the ball as much as possible. Their best hope for a goal will be on quick counters, where the speed of a select few individuals could potentially give the U.S. some trouble. Steeven Langil, an attacking midfielder and forward who spent six years in French football with Auxerre from 2007-2013, is a dangerous weapon in this regard for Martinique, Langil scoring the second goal against Nicaragua less than a minute after being subbed into the match midway through the second half.
Omens good and bad: This is not the first time the U.S. have matched up with Martinique in the Gold Cup. In 2003, the USMNT kicked off what would ultimately be a gut-wrenching edition of the tournament with a 2-0 win over Martinique at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Brian McBride scored twice inside a four minute span just before the halftime break on that night 14 years ago to put three points in the bag for a team led by none other than Bruce Arena.
This is also not the first time the U.S. have taken to the pitch of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay for a Gold Cup match. The last time they did so, they were defeated 2-1 by Panama in the group stage in 2011. That result is the only loss or draw for the U.S. in four matches all-time at the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
USA v. Martinique, CONCACAF Gold Cup Group B, Matchday 2
Wednesday 7/12, 9 PM ET, 6 PM PT
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, Florida
TV: Fox Sports 1
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