The United States is expected to have few problems when Jurgen Klinsmann’s side kicks off its Gold Cup campaign against competition debutants Belize on Tuesday. The clash in Portland will be the first ever meeting between the U.S. and the Central American nation, which is about the size of Massachusetts.
While it will be a significant occasion for Belize, for the U.S. the Gold Cup falls well down the pecking order a year before the World Cup. After a difficult beginning, Klinsmann has his side on the verge of confirming their place in Brazil following three straight wins and encouraging performances in the Hexagonal last month.
With Klinsmann knowing the majority of those who he hopes to take to Brazil next summer and keen to give rest to many of them, he has decided to take a second-string squad to the Gold Cup. That means that those involved should all be looking to impress and secure one of the remaining available berths for the World Cup. Chief among those is Landon Donovan.
Widely regarded as the most talented player in U.S. history, Donovan did not ingratiate himself to supporters or Klinsmann by taking a sabbatical late last year and missing the start of the Major League Soccer season as well as the beginning of the Hexagonal. Frozen out of the squad since then, the LA Galaxy forward has been brought back into the fold for the Gold Cup. And Donovan has already gone about earning back the trust of his coach with two goals in a warm-up match against Guatemala on Friday.
“I'm not going to get carried away because I scored a couple goals in a friendly against Guatemala, but it's good for confidence," he said, playing down the achievement afterward. "It's good to score goals, it's good for the team to win."
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The U.S. won that friendly 6-0 and Belize will be hoping that they can avoid a similar drubbing on their Gold Cup debut. The squad is largely made of amateurs who play their soccer in their local league, with the exceptions being goalkeeper Shane Orio and defender Elroy Smith, who play in Honduras. Adding a little extra intrigue to the occasion is the fact that Belize will be coached by an American in Ian Mork. Still residing in California, incredibly Mork is also taking time off from his job as a scout for the U.S. Soccer Federation.
“I’m continuing my education in many ways with an opportunity like this and I’m trying to improve my own coaching philosophy and style all the time,” Mork said, according to the Concacaf website. “But more importantly than that is for the team. It’s a big step, a bigger stage for us. Obviously we’re playing one of the top teams in the world. We’re kind of looking at it as we’re all going to be improving after this experience no matter what happens.”
D: Parkhurst, Onyewu, Goodson, Beasley
M: Beckerman, Holden
Donovan, Torres, Corona
D: Smith, Gaynair, Eiley, Pandy
M: A. Makin, James, D. Makin, Lennen
F: Roches, McCaulay
Prediction: The match should be a comfortable opening to the Gold Cup before tougher tests ahead against Cuba and, in particular, Costa Rica. The fans watching a first U.S. international in Portland since 1998 will expect to see a few goals and they should get it too with plenty of players needing to impress.
USA 5-0 Belize
Where to watch: The Gold Cup Group C match will kick-off at 11 p.m. ET at Jeld-Wen Field. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel and Univision, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.