Kyle BonaguraESPN staff writer6 minute reading
CHARLOTTE, NC — Let the real tournament begin.
As much as The US men’s national team might not have the respect of their Gold Cup Group A partners, there was never any real concern from the team that it would not advance to the knockout round. Sunday’s thoroughly dominant 6-0 win against Trinidad and Tobago showed why.
For the USA, the group stage was about integrating players, building relationships and setting the team up to win its fourth straight Concacaf trophy.
“I think right from the beginning the message is sure we’re giving as many players opportunities to experience this group stage,” interim coach BJ Callaghan said Saturday. “We know from experience that it will only pay dividends in the short term, but also when we get to the long term.”
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (USA)
Jesus Ferreira is the best example of that. In the short term, the forward’s back-to-back hat tricks in the last two games enabled the USA to clinch goal difference with Jamaica to top Group A. These performances are a positive sign of the USMNT’s improvement in long-term depth at the position.
During the last World Cup cycle, the striker was a glaring problem for the USA. No one grasped the starting role during qualifying, and it was the team’s most obvious weakness at the tournament in Qatar.
Ferreira, of course, was part of that equation. It’s not that he played his way into the 26-man World Cup roster so much as other options played out. Still, his inclusion was the subject of much debate and when he finally saw the field – as a starter in the round of 16 against the Netherlands – the stage proved too big.
Given the circumstances, his performance was not surprising. Calling on a 21-year-old MLS forward to make his World Cup debut against one of the most talented back lines in the tournament inadvertently set him up for failure. And with that came a lasting impression that can only come from the sport’s biggest stage.
Since then, Ferreira has responded as well as possible. He scored against Mexico in a friendly in April to keep the team’s now six-match unbeaten run in the rivalry alive. He is third in MLS with 10 goals in 18 games. His six goals in three Gold Cup games ties the record for most goals by a player in the tournament by a player aged 23 or younger (with possibly three games left to play).
“I think all strikers will be judged primarily by the goals they score,” said Callaghan. “And when I see his movement and his confidence in the box, you can see that the game has slowed down for him and he’s just placing balls at the back of it and that’s a positive sign. It lets us all know, that he is focused. and committed to being a goalscorer for us.”
There are the obvious caveats about competition levels. His three career USMNT hat tricks, which tie Landon Donovan for the most in team history, have all come against overmatched Caribbean competition. That reality is important context, but it also doesn’t mean scoring six goals in an 88-minute stretch isn’t worth celebrating.
USMNT players also had opportunities to score against Concacaf’s lightweights in the past, and few took those chances as well as Ferriera. He is the first ever to record back-to-back hat-tricks. In 21 career matches, he has scored 14 goals. He has also proven to be an unselfish player. That quality was a big factor in why coach Gregg Berhalter brought him to Qatar. After his first-half hat trick put the game out of reach and it was clear the USA would hold on to the goal difference against Jamaica, Ferreira might have been the team’s most active player trying to win back possession.
“I think it helps the team. It shows we’re still in it and it kind of gets everybody going again,” Ferreira said of his defensive effort. “I know people are tired. I’m used to playing in the heat, so maybe I have a little bit more energy than the rest.
“I always want to be the guy who can bring energy to the team and can spread that energy. We always say that somebody can be contagious with their energy, and so for me it’s always being the person who can get everybody going .”
This did not go unnoticed by Callaghan.
“All the work he does is leading our line defensively, dropping down and helping build plays,” Callaghan said. “For me, he’s having a really complete tournament so far and we’re going to continue to get him better.”
It also doesn’t mean he’ll soon dethrone Folarin Balogun as the presumptive starter with the USA’s full team. That doesn’t mean he’s a better option than Ricardo Pepi, his former FC Dallas teammate, as a pure striker. However, it is encouraging for the continued improvement of the depth at the position.
There were also memorable performances from other attacking players. Cade Cowell and Gianluca Busio scored their first senior international goals as the USA kept the pressure on until the final minute. Cowell’s goal in particular showed what he can do, using his speed to get clear on goal before navigating past the keeper and the lone defender in the box.
“He ran relentlessly at defenders,” Callaghan said of Cowell. “He was able to go inside, he was able to go outside. He was able to create combination plays and then he is rewarded with the goal.”
As the winner of Group A, the USA will face the runner-up from Group D in Cincinnati on July 9. That opponent will be decided on Tuesday, when Guadeloupe (four points) meets Guatemala (four points) and Canada plays (two points). ) and Cuba (zero points). Of those, only Cuba has been eliminated.
Alan Sonora, who strained his hamstring against St. Kitts and Nevis, will not continue with the team in the knockout stages, Callaghan said, but his caretaker replacement has not been determined. Jordan Morris was available off the bench on Sunday and remains in the team along with Miles Robinson, who started and played the first half.
Midfielder Aidan Morris left the team for personal reasons, the team announced on Sunday, and it is unclear if he will return during the tournament.