With the women’s team continues to celebrate its spectacular World Cup victory, the United States men’s soccer team will on Tuesday begin its quest to land a significant title of its own. The U.S. will go up against Honduras in Frisco, Texas, taking the first step in what it hopes will be a successful defense of the Concacaf Gold Cup title it reclaimed two years ago. Were the U.S. to lift the title in Philadelphia on July 26, it would also guarantee a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup, without the need for a playoff.
The match with Honduras represents the Americans’ first competitive outing since exiting the World Cup to Belgium over a year ago. In the intervening time, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has had an eye firmly on the future by taking a look at a huge number of players from far and wide, to generally mixed success. But the importance of the Gold Cup means he has narrowed his focus and opted for a squad full of experience, including 16 players who went to the 2014 World Cup.
There has, though, been a late change in in the captaincy. After receiving a domestic suspension last month for tearing up a referee’s notebook during a U.S. Open Cup match, long-time leader Clint Dempsey has been replaced by Michael Bradley. It means Tuesday will be a particularly special night for the 27-year-old Toronto FC midfielder, who will also win his 100th cap. Although Bradley has downplayed the impact the armband will have on his role.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said, according to the U.S. Soccer website. “It’s a big responsibility and one that I’m very, very excited about, but who I am and what I’m about on the field and off the field with this team doesn’t change whether I’m captain or not. We’re always lucky with this team that we have a number of guys who come in and are big personalities and are ready to take responsibility.”
Bradley was speaking after the U.S. beat Guatemala 4-0 in its final warm-up game last Friday, a result that Klinsmann described as “nice,” although with a performance that was “not so nice.”
The U.S. hasn’t failed to make it out of the group stage at a Gold Cup since 1985, but it has not been handed the most convenient draw this time around. As well as Honduras, the U.S. will go up against the team it beat in the final in 2013, Panama, as well as Haiti in Group A. And Klinsmann is expecting a Honduras team coming into the tournament off the back of a scoreless tie with Mexico to pose a significant first challenge.
“If you guys had a chance to watch them play Mexico two days ago, you can expect a very, very nasty game from Honduras, a very aggressive and difficult game,” he said. “We’ll talk through that the next couple of days. We have to step it up. We have to step it up in order to get three points on Tuesday night.”
Honduras has made it to the past two World Cups, although lost all three of its matches in Brazil. The team suffered further disappointment at last September’s Copa Centroamericana, after which the federation turned to the man who led Costa Rica to the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, Jorge Luis Pinto. And the Colombian has overseen an upturn in results in recent months, although he has stressed that his team remains a work in progress.
“We have changed a lot,” Pinto said after the draw with Mexico last Wednesday, according to the Concacaf website. “I feel that the team plays more with the ball and suddenly is more tactical and looks to play faster football.”
“They will see teams like the United States and Costa Rica to which we’ll give a fight. There fundamental things that need to improve, having more confidence with the ball.”
Kickoff time: 9:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes