As Tuesday’s Gold Cup opener against Honduras showed, tournament matches are rarely easy.
And while the U.S. MNT extended its all-time Gold Cup group stage record to 28-1-2 with the 2-1 win in Frisco, players recognize their remaining games against Haiti on Friday in Foxborough, Mass., and next Monday against Panama in Kansas City will be no picnic.
“All of these games are going to be tough – it’s a quality tournament,” midfielder Graham Zusi told ussoccer.com. “I wouldn’t rank the Honduras game as any more difficult than the others, but we got in early against a strong opponent. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was a good win against a team that’s playing well at the moment.”
Turning their attention to Haiti, the U.S. finds a side that may rank lower than most in the tournament, but one that worked hard to pull out a 1-1 draw in their tournament opener against Panama on Tuesday night. Beyond that, the Caribbean nation joins Mexico as the two CONCACAF countries that has an all-time winning record against the United States (5-6-5) and nearly beat the U.S. here in Foxborough in the 2009 Gold Cup, before Stuart Holden’s 92nd minute equalizer salvaged a 2-2 draw.
While there’s less familiarity with the Haitian side compared to some of the tournament’s other participants, almost their entire squad plays abroad -- midfielders Jeff Louis and Jean Sony Acénat play for Standard Liege and Steau Bucharest, respectively. If some of the club pedigrees didn’t stick out, the fight in the team’s 1-1 draw against 2013 runners-up Panama on Tuesday certainly put the rest of the tournament field on notice.
“They surprised a lot of people,” Jurgen Klinsmann told ussoccer.com “They’re a good team – very strong individual athletes in there and dangerous players as well. We need to be on our toes.”
“They’re a very athletic team, they’ll be very physical and they’ll create some problems,” added U.S. forward Chris Wondolowski.
A U.S. win on Friday would clinch a spot in the quarterfinals and guarantee that the MNT would play its knockout match on July 18 in Baltimore. A win coupled with a draw between Honduras and Panama in the night’s first match would see the U.S. finish atop Group A.
Knowing the final group match is against 2013 finalists Panama on Monday, the locking down a quarterfinal spot on Friday would be ideal.
“We know it’s not going to be easy,” said Zusi. “Every game in this tournament is going to be a battle and we have to be prepared for each one and take care of business.”