Sports Mole previews the Gold Cup quarter-final between USA and Curacao in Philadelphia, including team news and predicted lineups.
Curacao will be aiming to continue their fairytale adventure at the Gold Cup when they take on joint-hosts USA at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The underdogs have defied the odds to make it this far and now they face a massive test against a United States side backed as second favourites – behind Mexico – to lift the trophy.
USA have won the Gold Cup five times in the last 17 years and are the reigning champions, having defeated Costa Rica and Jamaica en route to lifting the trophy two years ago.
The Stars and Stripes had little trouble topping their group this time around, taking six points from six in games against Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Panama.
Kicking things off with a 4-0 win over Guyana, the United States then put six unanswered goals past Trinidad and Tobago before edging out 2018 World Cup participants Panama in Kansas City on Wednesday to finish ahead of their final round-robin opponents at the top of Group D.
USA have been handed a favourable last-eight tie and, should they overcome minnows Curacao, they will then face either Jamaica or Panama for a place in the final.
Gregg Berhalter surprisingly changed his entire team for the win against Panama, with Jozy Altidore marking his first appearance at this year’s Gold Cup with the winning goal after 66 minutes.
There have been suggestions that Berhalter will field some fringe players again on Monday, though finding a rhythm in the knockout stages is key.
USA against Mexico is the final many people have predicted, but the Stars and Stripes cannot afford to take their eye off the ball or else they will fall victim to an almighty upset on home soil.
Recent form in Gold Cup: WWW
Recent form (all competitions): DLLWWW
To put Curacao’s run to the knockout stages into perspective, they had never so much as scored a goal in the regional competition, never mind actually win a match.
After losing 1-0 to El Salvador in their opening Group C game, it looked certain to be an early exit for Remko Bicentini‘s side.
A victory by the same scoreline against Honduras revived their hopes, however, with Cardiff City midfielder Leandro Bacuna responsible for getting his side off the mark at the Gold Cup.
That historic goal, and indeed victory, set Curacao up nicely for their final group match against Jamaica. A 1-1 draw in that one, coupled with Honduras beating El Salvador, was enough to take them through to the quarter-finals.
Jamaica, dark horses to win the competition, took an early lead through Shamar Nicholson and looked as though they were going to cruise to a straightforward victory, only for Jurien Gaari to score one of the most famous goals in his side’s history three minutes into stoppage time at the end of the match.
The Caribbean nation have punched above their weight and now this encounter with the United States, in the United States, is considered a free hit of sorts.
Bicentini’s side have lost just two of their last 12 matches and, having played progressively tougher games in the group stage, they should be ready for this latest test – their toughest yet.
Recent form: LWD
Recent form (all competitions): LWWLWD
Berhalter said it was “an easy decision” to bring in 11 new faces for the meeting with Panama, which will keep his key players fit for the knockout rounds.
Cristian Roldan benefited from the rotation, as did goalscorer Altidore, but USA will surely go with the same XI that started their first two matches for this quarter-final tie.
Curacao used the same starting lineup in their last two group matches, meanwhile, and few changes – if any – are expected here.
Bicentini uses what is effectively a 4-3-3 formation, with box-to-box midfielder Bacuna – who boasts Premier League experience, most recently with Cardiff – the key man in this side.
PSV Eindhoven back-up keeper Eloy Room made 13 saves in the win over Honduras and will retain his place in goal for this huge match.
USA possible starting lineup:
Steffen; Lima, Zimmerman, Long, Ream; Boyd, McKennie, Bradley, Pulisic, Arriola; Zardes
Curacao possible starting lineup:
Room; Gaari, Martina, Lachman, Statie; Bacuna, Hooi, Maria; Nepomuceno, Arias, Antonia
Head To Head
This will be the first ever meeting between the United States and Curacao.
USA faced Curacao in their former guise – the Netherlands Antilles – during qualifying for the 1986 World Cup, drawing 0-0 in Curacao before winning the return fixture 4-0 at Busch Stadium in Missouri.
We say: USA 3-0 Curacao
Curacao can be more than happy with their Gold Cup campaign thus far, but their luck will surely run out against a much-fancied and fully fit USA side. We are backing a comfortable home win in Philadelphia.