The United States men’s soccer team will make its final preparations for the defense of its Gold Cup title when taking on Guatemala in Saturday’s friendly in Nashville. Jürgen Klinsmann’s side should come into the match in high spirits, having beaten both the Netherlands and Germany on the road last month. But its path to the Concacaf championship has been complicated by disciplinary issues hanging over the team’s captain.
During a U.S. Open Cup match last month, Clint Dempsey tore up a referee’s notebook to earn a red card, a three-match suspension from Major League Soccer and a two-year ban from the U.S. Open Cup. The punishment meant the Seattle Sounder forward was still eligible to play the Gold Cup for his country, but, while he was handed a place in Klinsmann’s squad, he will not lead the team out as captain. Instead, Klinsmann revealed on Wednesday, experienced midfielder Michael Bradley will take the armband.
“I had a very, very good conversation with Clint about what happened during the Open Cup, but also about how we want to approach things,” Klinsmann told the U.S. Soccer website. “For the time being we thought it’s the best thing to give the captaincy to Michael Bradley and let Clint focus on what he’s all about. Clint is about scoring goals. We need Clint Dempsey badly with the National Team. We need him in a good spirit.
“What happened was a mistake, but it was the first red card in his career and a lot of people went at him. I think the best thing for everyone right now is to let him concentrate really on playing and doing what he does best.”
While Dempsey won’t be captain, the team should not be lacking for leaders. From the 23-man squad that reached the Round of 16 at last year’s World Cup, 15 will be involved in attempting to help the U.S. lift the Gold Cup and secure an automatic place at the 2017 Confederations Cup, without the need for a playoff. That number would have been one higher if not for a knee injury that has ruled out Brad Davis and led to the call up of Atlas left-back Greg Garza. And Klinsmann has suggested that the team that takes the field against Guatemala at Nissan Field will give plenty of indicators to the one that will begin the Gold Cup against Honduras in Frisco, Texas on July 7.
“I think the game against Guatemala will give us a really big hint toward the starting XI a couple of days later in Dallas against Honduras,” he said. “In the friendly with Guatemala we have the chance to use six subs. We will use all six subs most likely to give the players minutes and give them a chance to show us what they have. As we get closer to the opening game we’re going to zoom in and plan through hopefully a long tournament.”
The U.S. certainly has reason to be optimistic of getting a positive result to take into the Gold Cup, having gone undefeated in its last 20 games against Guatemala. The teams’ last meeting, in a World Cup qualifier in Kansas City last year, ended in a 3-1 victory for the Americans, while the U.S triumphed 6-0 when they lost met in a friendly, back in 2013.
Guatemala has endured a difficult 2015 to date, only winning its first match when beating Bermuda 1-0 last month. The quarterfinalists form the last Gold Cup will start this year’s tournament against Trinidad and Tobago on July 9.
Kickoff time: 6:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, UniMas, Univision Deportes