After winning its group for the 13th time in the last 14 Gold Cups, things start to get much more interesting for the U.S. men’s soccer national team (2-0-1) on Wednesday night (9, FS1) as they host El Salvador (1-1-1) in a quarterfinal match at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. The Americans needed at least a three-goal win on Saturday night vs. Nicaragua (0-3-0) to win Group B and that’s exactly what they received as they topped them 3-0 in Cleveland. El Salvador finished in third-place in Group C but managed to grab one of the two third-place spots that turned out to be good enough to advance to the knockout stage.
Costa Rica (2-1-0) vs. Panama (2-1-0) precedes the US-El Salvador match in Philly. On Thursday, the other quarterfinals pit Jamaica (1-2-0) vs. Canada (1-2-0) at 7:30 on FS1 followed by Mexico (2-1-0) vs. Honduras (1-1-1) at 10:30 on FS1 from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. After the group stage, each head coach had the option to make up to six changes to their 23-player roster. American boss Bruce Arena a bit surprisingly opted for six different players, perhaps illustrating how desperate that the U.S. is to win the Gold Cup once again on its home soil.
Goalkeepers Tim Howard and Jesse Gonzalez (taking part in his 1st USMNT camp), midfielders Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe along with forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are the mostly big established stars that join the team. They take the place of goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson, midfielders Alejandro Bedoya (the former BC star left for the birth of his 2nd child), Cristian Roldan and New England Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe (who had a goal and assist in his first three USMNT appearances in a tournament) and forward Dom Dwyer. It was odd that Rowe and Dwyer (who scored a goal and drew a penalty kick in the Gold Cup), who were two of their best players in the uneven first 3 matches (1-1 draw vs. Panama, wild 3-2 win vs. Martinique and the more complete shutout of Nicaragua) were sent home but you would have to believe that they both left Arena with a positive first impression of their play for the national team.
On the surface, the 2017 Gold Cup doesn’t mean all that much except when you remember that the 2018 World Cup is now less than a year away. The USMNT still has to qualify for Russia but under Arena (6-0-5 since returning, tying the longest unbeaten streak to start a USMNT tenure) they have stabilized things immensely and look like basically a sure-thing to advance out of CONCACAF. In each previous instance where the U.S. has met El Salvador in the quarterfinals (2002 and 2013), the Americans have won and ended up capturing the Gold Cup that year so that’s something to keep in mind. Assuming that the U.S. beats El Salvador, a semifinal match on Saturday night (9, FS1) vs. Costa Rica would be very entertaining and anytime you can possibly see Mexico in a final (July 26), it’s a great thing for soccer fans.