If any team has been in need of a fresh start, it’s the U.S. men’s soccer team.
While the women’s national team soars at the World Cup in France, the men’s side has been saddled with the ignominy of October 2017, when it failed to qualify for World Cup for the first time since 1986.
“It’s been so negative,” former U.S. national team player Stu Holden said. “… In order to change that narrative, this team has to start winning. And they have to start winning in a way that fans can see progress. They can see promise. They can see this team can be competitive.
“Because we’re the butt of every joke at the moment.”
The pathway out of the punchline begins Tuesday night at Allianz Field, when the U.S. plays its first competitive match since the World Cup debacle. The squad will face Guyana in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a biennial tournament to determine the top national team in the Caribbean and North and Central Americas.
Since 2016 the national team has cycled through four coaches, settling on former national team player and Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter in December 2018. Berhalter has tried to usher in a new era of the national team with his playing style as well as with a fresh wave of young players.
Midfielder Wil Trapp, 26, is one of the players to have gained more national team experience since the World Cup failure.
“It’s an opportunity for all these players. It’s an opportunity for a new staff and a new identity … to take root,” Trapp said of the Gold Cup. “These are a lot of guys that weren’t there two years ago in Trinidad to not qualify. And I think there’s a hunger and a liveliness in this group, not only to win and do well but to play a specific type of soccer.”
Trapp said this version of the U.S. national team is focused on passing and possession, always with an aim to attack. But this will be the first true test of that. The team is 3-2-1 in exhibitions under Berhalter so far, but coming off two shutouts earlier this month to teams with little to no World Cup experience.
Those losses yet again inspired a chorus of pundits to call for an overhaul of U.S. Soccer. But Trapp said the team tries to block out the naysayers.
“Look, it’s something that is there,” Trapp said. “But you can’t read too much into it because that derails your focus from what’s more important, and that’s winning games.”
Holden, who is part of the Fox Sports broadcast team for the game, said he couldn’t “overstate the importance” of this tournament and what it could do for the atmosphere around the U.S. men’s team.
“I’m still not 100 percent sure exactly where this team stacks up,” Holden said. “And I think that’s what we’re going to find out in the Gold Cup.”
Allianz Field potential
Another atmosphere in the spotlight this week is that of Allianz Field. The 19,400-seat stadium sold out the earliest of any Gold Cup match in history back in December 2018.
“The fact that the stadium sold out so quickly demonstrates to us the passion of the fans there and the incredible support that they’ll provide the team for the game,” U.S. Soccer Chief Communications Officer Neil Buethe said. “So we really couldn’t ask for a better environment to kick off the team’s Gold Cup journey.”
While the national team looks to reboot for the future, U.S. Soccer will also pay attention to how Allianz Field could become a site for more games.
“The fact that we can hopefully put on a great show [Tuesday], have a great environment and really cement Allianz Field as one of the venues that U.S. Soccer wants to come back to time and time again is in our hands,” Trapp said. “And it’s a great opportunity, I think, to show not only the country what Minnesota has to offer but also everyone else in CONCACAF.”