After watching Mexico destroy El Salvador, 5-0, on the first day of Gold Cup competition, the U.S. -- coming off a 4-0 drubbing to Spain -- knows it can't wait much longer to find its form in 2011.
The United States will put its unbeaten Gold Cup group stage record (23-0-2) on the line when it faces Canada Tuesday night under the dome at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich. (8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel). The Americans, four-time winners of the tournament, will be going for their first win of the year.
Head coach Bob Bradley showed he wasn't nearly as interested in upsetting the Spaniards Saturday as he was preparing his team for Tuesday, trotting out an inexperienced squad against the World Cup champs. Landon Donovan sat out due to illness and Carlos Bocanegra was rested. Stars such as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley didn't play until the game was out of reach.
That all changes Tuesday night, when we'll likely see both Dempsey and Donovan attacking from the wings, with Bradley partnered with either Maurice Edu or Jermaine Jones in the middle. On defense, Steve Cherundolo will be on the right, while some combination of Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson (or Tim Ream) and Bocanegra will fill out the back line. Up top, Jozy Altidore will be there. It remains to be seen whether Juan Agudelo will join him.
The news of the day was Alejandro Bedoya officially joining the team. He came to training camp last week after midfielder Benny Feilhaber injured his ankle and was ruled out for about a month. Feilhaber is perhaps best remembered for his dazzling Gold Cup-winning strike against Mexico in 2007. It happened early, but it was a stunner.
The United States hasn't lost to Canada in 13 games (7-0-6), dating back to 1985 and has never lost a Gold Cup opener in 10 tries. Team USA returns to Detroit for the first time since its 1994 World Cup game against Switzerland. Speaking of stunners, Eric Wynalda, anyone?
Landon Donovan, assuming he plays Tuesday, will tie Kasey Keller for most Gold Cup appearances with 23. He's won the tournament three times (2002, 2005, 2007). The U.S brings 13 players with Gold Cup experience.
Canada last played the U.S. in the 2007 Gold Cup semifinal, which the Americans won, 2-1. Five Canadian starters from that game return this year, including Dwayne De Rosario (Red Bulls teammate of Ream and Agudelo), as well as Julian de Guzman, Ali Gerba, Andre Hainault and Atiba Hutchinson.
Can the U.S. finally get in the win column? The key lies in the midfield, which did a whole lot of nothing before Bradley and Dempsey entered the game in the second half against Spain. As long as Bradley and his central midfield mate can possess and distribute to Donovan and Dempsey on the wings, the game favors the Americans.
Altidore's goal-scoring struggles mean the onus may also be on the midfield to put a few in the net. Of course, the 21-year-old will be facing a defense that doesn't belong to Spain, Argentina and Brazil -- three of the last eight U.S. opponents. A goal in this game would be huge for the young striker.
On defense, Onyewu has to prove he belongs there. If he struggles, I wouldn't put it past Bradley to bench him for the next few games, much like he did in the World Cup. Bocanegra can slide over to the middle and Bradley can use Eric Lichaj or Jonathan Bornstein on the left.
The United States officially begins is first step toward the next World Cup on Tuesday. Let's see how far they've come since the last one.