United States Men’s National Team dominates Haiti in Gold Cup soccer at KC

The United States team scores against Haiti in the first half of the game on Sunday, July 11, 2021 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

The United States team scores against Haiti in the first half of the game on Sunday, July 11, 2021 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

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The CONCACAF Gold Cup opener against Haiti on Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park was always going to be a bit disjointed.

With a heavy Major League Soccer team missing many big hitters due to club commitments and rest ahead of the September World Cup playoffs, the USMNT trained together for the first time on Tuesday and played a game five days later. Twelve members of the 23-man squad had five or fewer selections entering the tournament, most of which had no sort of major international tournament experience.

The issues are still being worked out, which saw the Americans win 1-0 with three safe points to start Group B – but three points nonetheless.

Colorado Rapids defenseman Sam Vines headed his first USMNT goal in the eighth minute, giving the United States a lead they never gave up and keeping their unbeaten record at 7-1-0 in Kansas City in the first of three group stage games over a week at Children’s Mercy Park.

Although the United States got the most out of this game, coach Gregg Berhalter said there was still a lot to be desired on the pitch.

“I feel like we still have to shift to another gear,” said Berhalter. “You could see it, we were a little rusty. The movements weren’t as crisp as they normally were, and we didn’t create enough and didn’t finish enough chances. From this point of view, there is room for improvement. But (I’m) happy with the shutout … and happy with the three points. “

The Americans were patient – perhaps almost passive – with the ball at their feet for much of the first half, choosing to develop the game rather than risk an exaggerated pass in a 4-3-3 formation. It worked best on the right side, where midfielder Kellyn Acosta and right-back Shaquell Moore were effective in the linking game.

The connection led to the Americans’ first objective. A run and a quick pass from Acosta put Moore on the right side. His low cross deflected towards the back post of forward Gyasi Zardes’ foot, leaving an unmarked Vines free for an easy header.

Berhalter said Moore earned the green light from coaches as player of the match, and Acosta praised the way Moore, who plays club football at CD Tenerife in Spain, has adapted despite the difference in national team experience between Acosta (31 caps) and Moore (five).

“It’s definitely an impressive performance from Shaq,” Acosta said. “He did well up and down the field defensively, he was really solid offensively. He was a threat, I’m proud of him. I mean, obviously he’s been with the squad for a few years now, so for him to come into the squad and have this performance is definitely promising. “

Haiti has never looked out of its depth, even with five players and an assistant coach due to COVID-19 protocols. He did better when he was able to play wide, but a solid back line from the USMNT, especially with center-back Walker Zimmerman’s play, kept the Haitians out of the way.

Chances were tight for the United States in the opening 45 minutes outside of goal, with a Moore effort saved in the 36th minute by Haitian goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre. Sylvestre, who plays for Miami FC in the USL Championship, was Haiti’s only available goalkeeper with two stoppages due to COVID-19 protocols.

American fans in attendance were calling long before kick-off for the national debut of Sporting Kansas City midfielder Gianluca Busio, selected by Berhalter for his first call-up to USMNT earlier this month. The chanting of “BU-SI-O” from the stands made it clear what the fans wanted, and they got their wish in the 62nd minute when Busio was substituted.

Berhalter adjusted to a 3-5-2 when Busio was with midfield partners James Sands and Eryk Williamson, and the 19-year-old thrived. Busio was an attacking force who demanded possession and seemed comfortable with it, almost hitting the scoresheet in spectacular fashion.

A clearance fell to him outside the box in the 76th minute and Busio shot the target on the fly. This forced Sylvester to make a solid save as the 12,664 fans whimper. Regardless, Busio was loudly cheered every time he touched the ball as he sported the national team colors in his stadium.

“It was a really special feeling for me,” said Busio. “I thought it was a very good game for me. I could get used to CONCACAF, it’s a bit chippy. … Hearing people chanting my name isn’t something a lot of players get to experience, and I’m just happy to be able to do it at home and a national team start with the win is really important. Doing it at home is even more special. “

KC-born winger Nicholas Gioacchini, replaced by injured 14th-minute Paul Arriola, was an active element on the effective right side despite Berhalter noting after the game that he was out of shape at 90 minutes.

Gioacchini had a free header off target in the 51st minute and fired a miss three minutes later. His best chance came in the 66th minute, when a sloppy gift from Haiti led to a chance in the 18-yard penalty area. Gioacchini’s shot fell low and hit the left post.

Busio and Gioacchini, as well as Sands, forward Daryl Dike and goalkeeper Matt Turner, became tied with the United States in their appearances on Sunday. All five had prior options to play at the senior level for other nations.

“I thought (Gioacchini) had done a good job,” Berhalter said. “It was good that he got the scoring opportunities. As the game progressed I thought he was gaining confidence and it was good to see … it’s about working with this group of attackers to refine some moves, some passes in the box repairs to be even more efficient. “

The US team’s group race continues against Martinique at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Martinique lost their opener to Canada 4-1 before the United States game on Sunday.

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