[USA CONFIDENTIAL] Thanks to fortuitous scheduling, a possible "dream matchup" of the USA and Mexico in the Gold Cup knockout rounds is still on, but perhaps not at the final stage as has been anticipated. Heading into its Group C finale against Guadeloupe (0-2-0, 0 points) Tuesday in Kansas City (9 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, TeleFutura), the USA (1-1-0, 3 points) is tied for second place with Canada (1-1-0, 3 points) and can finish first, second, third, or even fourth. Group leader Panama (2-0-0, 6 points) has qualified for the quarterfinals but could finish as low as third if it loses to Canada.
Since never before had it lost in group play at a Gold Cup, the USA faces the most uncertain scenario of its 11 appearances in the competition.
Guadeloupe battled back against Panama in its opener before losing by a single goal, 3-2, and narrowly lost to Canada, 1-0, despite going down to 10 men in both games. With zero points and a minus-2 goal difference, its chances of advancement are nearly infinitesimal; it must hammer the USA and get a lot of help.
Regardless of whether it plays for pride or points, its match against the USA is Guadeloupe’s final opportunity to get something out of the Gold Cup. The Americans are reeling in the aftermath of a 2-1 loss to Panama that triggered a bombardment of criticism, most of it aimed at Coach Bob Bradley. Beating Guadeloupe won’t mute that vitriol, but a victory would move the USA into the knockout rounds and could win it the group.
The possible scenarios are these:
With a win, the USA finishes either first or second, depending on the result of the Canada-Panama game that precedes its game with Guadeloupe. The USA can advance with a tie or a loss if Canada loses, and will have that knowledge at hand when it takes the field for the last of 18 games in group play. Four of the eight quarterfinal slots are still to be decided.
The winner of Group C faces a third-place team, which if the Americans win the group would be Guatemala, which finished third in Group B by beating Grenada, 4-0. The Group C runner-up plays Group B winner Jamaica (3-0-0, 9 points), which finished group play Monday with a perfect record by beating runner-up Honduras (1-1-1, 4 points). The Hondurans play Group A runner-up Costa Rica in the first game of a quarterfinal doubleheader Saturday in the New Meadowlands.
Should the USA tie Guadeloupe, it cannot finish first in Group C. It would finish second if Canada ties or loses to Panama. If Canada wins, the group title would be decided on goal difference; Panama is plus-two (five scored, three conceded) and Canada is minus-one (one scored, two conceded). Sandwiched in between are the Americans at plus-one (three scored, two allowed).
If the USA ties Guadaloupe and Canada wins, the Americans would finish third with four points. That would set up a date with Group A winner Mexico in the quarterfinals Saturday at the New Meadowlands Stadium, and deprive the final of one of its projected participants.
Otherwise, by finishing first or second, the USA plays at RFK Sunday. As Group C winner, it would play Jamaica; as group runner-up, it would face Guatemala, with a better goal difference (plus-two) in comparison with the Group A third-place team, El Salvador (zero).
“We expect a hard game,” said Coach Bradley on the federation's Web site, ussoccer.com. “Guadeloupe is talented team, and the past Gold Cups show that as well. We understand what the game is like. Our team has always responded really well coming back from games that we weren’t satisfied with, and I know that will be the case.”
The U.S. trained for about 45 minutes Monday at Livestrong Sporting Park. No significant injuries have been reported; the session consisted of a 15-minute warm-up, followed by 11-v-11 run-through on positioning, followed by a final segment of crossing and finishing.
“We’re a little bit pissed off, frankly, at ourselves,” said captain Carlos Bocanegra of Saturday’s defeat. “You know? We have to take that one on the chin. There’s no one else to blame for that one except the players. Now coming out we need to win and we knew what this is going to take.”