BJ Callaghan’s squad will try to rebound from their tough Gold Cup group-stage opener on Wednesday night when they take on the group’s minnows Saint Kitts and Nevis at CityPark Stadium in St. Louis.
While not entirely unexpected, Saturday’s tournament-opening draw against a tough Jamaica squad exposed the significant drop-off in quality from the first-choice players who largely made up the collection that won the Nations League crown a few days before.
One of the holdovers from that triumphant team in Las Vegas – keeper Matt Turner – was the hero for the Americans thanks to a first-half penalty stop that kept them within reach, further emphasizing the challenge facing Callaghan if he hopes to add a second trophy to his short head-coaching list of achievements.
Fortunately for the team, they get what should be a break in their second game against the tiny Caribbean island, who are making their first-ever Gold Cup appearance after successfully navigating the preliminary qualification tournament.
The Sugar Boyz have never played in any major tournaments since their entry into FIFA as an independent entity in the early-90s, and are already proving themselves to be the punching bags of Group A.
They lost by a three-goal margin to Trinidad and Tobago in their first group game on Sunday, and will be hard-pressed to expect anything from their remaining two games against the Americans and Jamaicans.
Their squad is comprised of a mixture of players from their domestic league, the Saint Kitts and Nevis Premier Division, and others in the lower divisions of clubs throughout the US, England, Spain, Wales and India.
31 year-old England-born midfielder Romaine Sawyers is perhaps their most experienced high-level talent, having spent one year in the English Premier League with West Brom, and several seasons in the English Championship with a variety of different teams.
Their most capped player is defender Gerard Williams, made the first of his 79 appearances for the team back in late-2006, and currently plays for India’s TRAU FC.
Wednesday’s game will be the first-ever meeting of these two teams despite competing within the same confederation for three decades. Anything but an American win would be the a massive upset for the guests, however it’s hard to imagine that even a poor performance by the team that struggled against Jamaica four days before will not come out on top.
Realistically, the expectation should be for both the US and Jamaica to win their final two group games, where they are both clear favorites, which puts emphasis on padding their goal differential, also with an eye to reserving key players for the knockout round.
This will likely lead Callaghan to rotate a number of players compared to the starting XI that took the field in Chicago on Saturday, blooding some of the less-experienced players, many of whom did show some promise on Saturday.
With the availability of Jordan Morris for the game in doubt, Brandon Vazquez and Cade Cowell are likely starters in the attack. Julian Gressel could be left on the bench after joining the camp late due to personal matters, giving Alejandro Zendejas another shot from the opening whistle.
AZ Alkmaar’s Djordje Mihailovic was only used in a substitute role, and will be a prime candidate to get the start in an attacking midfield role, alongside one of the two fellow Saturday substitutes Gianluca Busio or Cristian Roldan. James Sands was strong in the starting defensive midfield role on Saturday, and could also get the nod again.
Miles Robinson has returned to full training, and should form the central defense duo with Jalen Neal, who was solid in the role on Saturday after coming in at halftime in place of Aaron Long, or the resurgent Matt Miazga.
Bryan Reynolds is also due a start in the defense, although with somewhat of a shortage of experienced full-backs, Callaghan might be hesitant to pair him with left-sider DeJuan Jones in place of John Tolkin and the more experienced DeAndre Yedlin.
The game will be the perfect opportunity to give Turner a rest after his three-game run through two competitions so far this summer, although whether the experienced Sean Johnson or keeper-of-the-future Gabriel Slonina comes in is up in the air.
The game kicks off at 10pm Eastern US time in the CityPark stadium, home of MLS club St. Louis SC.