DAVID SMITH - Monday, June 13, 2011
The Stars & Stripes will try to recover from the weekend's humiliation against Panama and secure their place in the knockout round on Tuesday evening when they face winless Guadeloupe in Kansas City.
Saturday's 2-1 loss to Panama was by far one of the biggest shocks in the recent history of the US program, as a complete and total lack of attacking creativity combined with a number of defensive frailties to sent Bob Bradley's squad to their first-ever group stage loss in the Gold Cup.
The outcome of this surprise sees the Americans entering the final game of the phase in second place, and needing at least a draw in Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park against the tiny island nation of Guadeloupe to assure passage to the quarterfinals.
While Guadeloupe have performed admirably so far in the tournament - nearly coming back from a 3-0 disadvantage against Panama despite playing a man down, then losing a narrow 1-0 decision to Canada on a penalty - anything but a win would be an utter and complete calamity for Bradley's team.
The game will almost certainly see several lineup changes, due to yellow card issues by several players, although even moreso as a result of needing a change after several poor performances on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Bradley, the lackluster play against Panama extended to nearly every player on the field including several locked-in starters.
Jermaine Jones will likely start on the bench, as the combination of a yellow which ultimately led to Panama's opening goal along with a weak performance in the midfield and a petulant display upon his substitution in the second half will make Maurice Edu a far more inviting option.
Central defender Tim Ream is a prime candidate to also be shifted to bench duty as he has yet to show that he has fully adjusted to the international game, although whether this means a straight one-for-one substitution with Oguchi Onyewu or a shifting of team captain Carlos Bocanegra to the middle from the left side remains to be seen.
As he has been one of the lone bright spots on the attack, Clint Dempsey could be shifted to the top to join Jozy Altidore, as the two have teamed up nicely on several occasions. This would send youngster Juan Agudelo to the bench to occupy the role of second-half spark-plug which he has become familiar with at Red Bull New York, and potentially put either Alejandro Bedoya or Sacha Kljestan in the starting eleven on the wing.
Guadeloupe have been unable to finish either of their first two group games with all 11 players on the field, first having MickaŽl Tacalfred sent off for violent conduct against Panama, then being forced to play the final 86 minutes of Saturday's game against Canada with ten men after Jean-Luc Lambourde was ejected for a studs-up challenge.
As both defenders should be suspended for Tuesday's game, this could leave the team somewhat short-handed in the back, which can only be good news for a US team looking for any break it can get.
For the Americans, several players are on threat of suspension from yellow cards. Bocanegra, Jones, Altidore, Bedoya, Michael Bradley and Clarence Goodson all enter the game carrying one caution, and will miss any potential quarterfinal game should they pick up a second. Single cards are wiped out after the group games, likely tipping coach Bradley's hand to get any of them who do start off the field as quickly as possible to avoid having to plan without them for any future games.
The US can still win Group C with a win, should they win the game and Canada beat Panama immediately beforehand. Likewise, even what would amount to an embarrassing draw would put the team through, while a calamitous loss would throw everything in question.
The game is set to kick off at 8pm local time in Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park.