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US, Mexico eye future as Gold Cup kicks off

4 min

Los Angeles (AFP)

United States coach Gregg Berhalter will hope the Gold Cup can act as a catalyst for his faltering side when the expanded championship for North America, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) kicks off on Saturday.

With 16 teams taking part for the first time, Berhalter's men should have plenty of opportunities to play their way into form before the tournament reaches its climax with a final at Chicago's Soldier Field on July 7.

But the defending champions have been in unconvincing form in the build-up to the event, stumbling to a lacklustre 1-0 home defeat by Jamaica before being comprehensively outplayed in a 3-0 loss to Venezuela on Sunday.

While those results could be partially explained away by the absence of several key personnel, with Chelsea-bound star Christian Pulisic and midfielder Michael Bradley missing both games, the two defeats exposed a lack of depth.

Berhalter however is adamant that he is building for the future as the United States attempts to move on from their stunning failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

As such, the US have put an accent on youth as they embark on their quest for a record-equalling seventh Gold Cup title.

"We do have some young players that haven't been around the national team for a long time but part of it in our head is projecting out to 2022. Can they be available for 2022?," Berhalter told ESPN this week.

"What we don't want is to have too many players that we don't think will be around in 2022. That's what we're aware of. That's on our mind."

- 'A new opportunity' -

Berhalter wants his squad to turn the page of the debacle of the 2018 qualifiers, which saw Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach before defeat by Trinidad and Tobago in the final game sealed elimination.

"I think the guys understand that listen: this is a new coach and it's a new opportunity for us to go in the direction that we want to go," said Berhalter. "I think that I don't see guys looking back in the past."

The USA will have an early opportunity to avenge their World Cup qualifying elimination in the first round of the Gold Cup.

The hosts are drawn in Group D, alongside Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama, who qualified for Russia ahead of the USA in 2017.

The USA kick off their first round campaign against the other side in Group D, Guyana, in Saint Paul, Minnesota on June 18.

Saturday's opening round of fixtures meanwhile will see tournament favourites Mexico open their campaign against Group A opponents Cuba at the Pasadena Rose Bowl outside Los Angeles.

Mexico head into the tournament on a four-game winning streak under former Argentina manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino, who took over in January after leading Atlanta United to a Major League Soccer championship crown last year.

Martino hopes to use the tournament to get an extended look at his resources as he builds towards the future.

"We are going to look for two things in the Gold Cup: the first one is obviously the title and the second one is to take a month together so that each of the training sessions aims to reinforce a project that is just beginning," said Martino, whose squad has been depleted by the no-show of several star names including Los Angeles FC striker Carlos Vela, West Ham's Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrera and Porto's Jesus Corona.

"It's not something I've seen before," said Martino. "A call-up to the national team is a reward for footballers and when they don't see it as that, it's logical for them not to be here."

Even allowing for the absentees, Mexico should qualify comfortably from a Group A which also includes Canada and Martinique.

Group B meanwhile features Costa Rica, Haiti, Nicaragua and Bermuda while Group C includes Honduras, Jamaica, El Salvador and Curacao.

Historical rivals Honduras and El Salvador meet in the final round of group games on June 25, in a game that falls just a few weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of the two nations' 1969 "Football War".

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