Gold Cup preview: Border battle as US, Canada meet in Detroit
The United States and Canada open Gold Cup play with the most important
match of the beginning round (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET; FOX Soccer, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com).
With all due respect to Guadeloupe and Panama, the squad that prevails
on Detroit's Ford Field should finish first in Group C. The Americans
are the heavy favorites, but the visiting team is a dark horse to
advance deep into the biennial event, and their talented attack could
pose problems for a USA defense that's far from settled.
There is plenty of history between the two neighbors. They've played
one another 29 times, including three times during the Gold Cup. The
last time out, the Americans prevailed 2-1 in the semifinals of the 2007
tournament in which an Atiba Hutchinson goal in the 94th minute was
called back because of a phantom offside. The Canadians will be seeking
revenge for that match, and a victory for Stephen Hart's side would be
the American's first-ever defeat in Gold Cup group play.
Both sides will field their strongest unit as this will be the stiffest
test of the first round for each team. That said, don't be surprised to
see the coaches adjust their lineups at halftime in order to save key
players some minutes in anticipation of the long tournament ahead.
The first key: Forget Spain.
Bob Bradley's boys can take a bit of motivation from the 4-0 drubbing
they experienced on Saturday night, but they should remove the rest of
the night from their minds. It's over and done with — a poor performance
that doesn't matter now. The focus must be the Gold Cup.
In many ways, Canada presents the perfect challenge for the Americans.
The neighbors to the north are a strong side, but the Stars and Stripes
are still heavy favorites. They should get their mojo back, feel better
about their play and jump into the Group C driver's seat after a victory
Tactically, Canada can be exposed up the flanks, so look for Landon
Donovan and Clint Dempsey to attack up the wings. It's a great
opportunity for overlapping runs from fullbacks Steve Cherundolo and
Jonathan Bornstein as well, since the Canadian counterattack does not
develop quickly. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see Alejandro Bedoya
(likely), Robbie Rogers (less likely), or even Freddy Adu get some time
out wide, too. This is a game where their talents could fit very well.
Hart's team is constantly overlooked in CONCACAF and for good reason:
They are traditionally not that strong and saddled with bad luck. That
reality is changing, slowly, and will only speed up as Toronto FC, the
Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact help develop more talent.
The point here is that though no one would confuse them for the US or
Mexico, quality players such as Hutchinson, Dwayne De Rosario, Will
Johnson, Simeon Jackson and the mercurial Julian de Guzman give Hart
options and a newfound depth.
The defense, specifically the wings, is the problem. Kevin McKenna is
solid in the middle, but fullbacks Marcel de Jong, Mike Klukowski and
Nik Ledgerwood will struggle. The best-case scenario for Hart and the
crew is a one-goal loss, which puts them in prime position to finish
second in Group C.
United States: Landon Donovan
The Galaxy star seeks his fourth Gold Cup championship. He missed the
Spain slaughter with an illness, but he will start against Canada. He
could have a huge game tearing through a soft Maple Leafs defense.
Canada: Atiba Hutchinson
The PSV Eindhoven midfielder makes this team go. He'll start out wide
in Hart's 4-3-3 and will be key both in attack and, more importantly,
defense. If Hutchinson gets overrun, the scoreline could get ugly.
United States predicted starting XI: Howard; Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Bornstein, Edu, Jones, Bradley, Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore
Canada predicted starting XI: Borjan; de Jong, McKenna, Hainault, Ledgerwood, Johnson, De Rosario, Hutchinson, de Guzman, Friend, Simpson