Playing against one of their biggest World Cup rivals, the United States men's soccer team gave the crowd at Rentschler Field something to celebrate with a huge 2-1 win over Ghana in preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, starting next week.
USMNT head coach Bruce Arena, now in his second stint at the helm of the team, decided that his European-based players, including the wunderkind Christian Pulisic, should rest after a long season and decided not to call them in for the upcoming Gold Cup. Instead, he picked a roster infused with youth and many new faces, but with enough experience in all the right places to make sure the team can still compete for CONCACAF supremacy.
Among the experienced players called up was long-time goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a composed head in between the sticks who has shown time and time again that he can be the guy that replaces Tim Howard in net.
Against Ghana on Saturday afternoon, Guzan made all the right plays, came off his line at the right times and stopped a penalty kick at the end of the first half, which ended up being a crucial moment in a one-goal game. His lone mistake was giving up a free kick goal to Asamoah Gyan, but he could hardly be faulted for a beautiful shot by the Ghanaian.
Other players that provide the experience that the USMNT needs for the Gold Cup are Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya and Omar Gonzalez, the latter two of whom only made cameo appearances at the end of the match. Besler, Zusi and Gonzalez each provide a calming presence to the backline, while Bedoya is a multi-dimensional midfielder with the ability to beat his man on the dribble and deliver good crosses into the box for the forwards.
It is clear that Arena wanted these kinds of players in particular to lead his squad into the Gold Cup. However, it would be remiss to suggest the likes of Dom Dwyer and Kellyn Acosta won't make their own impacts in the upcoming tournament.
Dwyer, husband of USWNT forward Sydney Leroux, was born in raised in England but became a U.S. citizen this past March. The Sporting Kansas City forward received his first call-up to the national team for the Gold Cup roster and made sure to take his chance when given the start against Ghana.
Dwyer terrorized the Ghanaian back line with his impressive hold up play and timely creative runs behind. He also was a positive impact on the defensive end, putting high pressure on the opposing goalkeeper and defense to create turnovers. Most importantly, however, Dwyer showed a great ability to poach goals in the box. That was quite clear in the 19th minute when the newly-minted American took advantage of a deflected shot and volleyed home before an ecstatic celebration. With this kind of play, Dwyer may very well latch on to the A-team and be one of the first forwards off the bench to come on for Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood.
Acosta, too, made quite the impression in the tune-up friendly against Ghana. The midfielder was precise with his passes and made nice forward-thinking runs when he saw fit. Acosta also made some decisive tackles, although he was given a yellow card for one poor challenge. Acosta's biggest impact, however, make come from the set piece. He was the main free kick and corner kick taker throughout the game for the U.S. and scored a beautiful low free kick early in the second half, which ultimately won the game.
Between Dwyer, Acosta and a few other young guns like Kelyn Rowe and Kenny Saief, this roster is bursting with potential. Personally, I am really looking forward to seeing what Arena will be able to accomplish with this squad in the Gold Cup. It definitely isn't the best squad Arena could have brought, but the team put in a great showing against a solid and pacey Ghana side and has that mix of experience and youth that can thrive in tournaments like this.
This kind of performance at Rentschler really bodes well for the Americans as they play their first Gold Cup game next week against Panama at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. And if they play like this throughout the tournament, there is no doubt in my mind that they could be crowned CONCACAF champions at the end of the month.