The Concacaf Gold Cup keeps rolling for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Tonight, they’ll take on Qatar (no, that’s not a mistake) in the semifinals. Here’s what we’re looking for.
The 2022 World Cup hosts are playing in this North American regional tournament as a guest as they look to test themselves against varying opposition ahead of their big moment in just over a year. Their schedule of mostly Asian opposition made them a relative unknown in the region, but they’ve been one of the more impressive sides thus far in the competition.
Qatar breezed through their group, winning two and drawing a 3-3 thriller against Panama. They’ve scored nine goals in their first four matches, and conceded just five in the process.
Spanish manager Félix Sánchez heads up this group, which is entirely composed of players from the Qatar Stars League. He has turned this squad into an expansive group that looks to dominate possession and use quick interplay to break their opponent’s press and advance the ball into the final third.
In defense, they’ll set up in a back five that mixes in a high press with a midblock that sees the defense and midfield stay compact while the attackers have freedom to press the back line.
Qatar have several creative attacking players; Akram Afif and Hassan Al-Haydos the standouts. But the real strength of the side is the structure instilled by Sánchez and the tactical identity the Qarati program has adopted as a whole.
Ahead of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has made real strides to improve their national team. They’ve invested heavily in their domestic league and have brought in several high-profile managers to raise the level of play. Barcelona legend Xavi is the man in charge at Al-Sadd. Laurent Blanc coaches Al-Rayyan after an illustrious playing career and spells in charge of PSG and the French national team.
The investment has paid off so far, with Qatar topping their group in World Cup qualifying, scoring 18 goals and conceding just one. While their run to the semifinals of the Gold Cup has surprised many who weren’t familiar with their team, it’s the result of years of preparation by Qatar.
United States 🇺🇸
It took an 87th minute goal to beat Jamaica, but the U.S. have made it to the semifinals. Gregg Berhalter’s side has found results, but haven’t convinced by any stretch of the imagination.
A lack of wingers in the squad has caused some real problems. Jonathan Lewis’s stock dropped significantly after a poor performance in the opener against Haiti, leaving Paul Arriola as the only natural wide player in the group.
Daryl Dike made a long-awaited start up front against Jamaica, and despite his spectacular form earlier in the season for Barnsley, he struggled against the Reggae Boyz. His touch let him down several times, and he was unable to link play with the rest of the team. He spent most of the match isolated and struggled to make the most of his opportunities, and the side looked significantly better after Gyasi Zardes replaced him.
In midfield, Gianluca Busio has been a mixed bag. His natural talent and willingness to try to break lines with his passing is refreshing, but poor giveaways and lack of defensive steel has left the rest of midfield with a lot of the defensive burden. Berhalter has options in his place; Kellyn Acosta can slide back into a deeper role, and Eryk Williamson impressed in his lone start against Martinique, and has been exceptional in a deeper role for Portland in MLS.
Qatar will be the toughest test yet for this U.S. squad. They’re better on the ball than any side they’ve played yet, and their ability to stay compact and keep numbers behind the ball while threatening on the break will keep the Yanks honest in possession and test the centerback partnership of Miles Robinson and James Sands.
The U.S. haven’t been exceptional going forward, taking just 17 shots in their last two matches. Inefficiency in front of goal will be punished against Qatar, and they’ll need to take their chances when they come to adavance.
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Time: 6:30 PM Central
Venue: Q2 Stadium, Austin, Texas
Broadcast: FS1 (English) / Univision & TUDN (Spanish)