After newcomer Tyler Boyd scored early in the second half to give the United States a two-goal lead, the sure sign this was going to be a good night for the Americans was visible on Gyasi Zardes’ face.
A shot by Paul Arriola from just outside the box was headed by Guyana defender Terence Vancooten straight at Zardes’ left eye. The ball ricocheted into the net as teammates celebrated around a stunned, grimacing Zardes.
Finally, the Americans had some fun on the field again.
Boyd scored two goals to guide the U.S. past overmatched Guyana 4-0 to start the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Tuesday, getting this much-maligned team on track in its first competitive game in 20 months.
“The first game of a tournament is always a little bit nervy,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We told the guys, ‘Enjoy the experience. It’s competition time.”
Boyd, a 24-year-old attacker, played just his second match for the U.S. after a FIFA-approved switch of affiliation from New Zealand. His parents were able to take the long flight from his native country to attend the game.
“Just a dream come true,” Boyd said. “It’s been years and years of work to get to this moment.”
Arriola had a goal and an assist, and Weston McKennie was awarded with an assist during an all-around strong performance before leaving with what appeared to be a left hamstring injury. Berhalter said it was a cramp, nothing serious.
The Americans were on the attack for most of the game while generating a steady stream of prime scoring chances against a Guyana team making its Gold Cup debut, but even a decisive victory like this wasn’t going to provide much insight into any progress being made under Berhalter, given Guyana’s No. 177 ranking. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen made one save, in the 69th minute. With fan angst at a fever pitch and a young squad trying to find its way with a new, flashier style of play, though, there was plenty to be gained from, simply, winning . Especially after the Americans lost ugly in friendlies earlier this month to Venezuela and Jamaica .
“You guys know how it works. In a few weeks nobody is going to be talking about Jamaica and Venezuela,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Because one of two things is going to happen. We’re going to win the Gold Cup, and at that point we’re going to have enough in the bank over the course of the next few weeks to where I think those are the last two games that I think everybody is going to be talking about, and if we don’t we will have lost more important games that ultimately will be looked more closely at, right?”
Up next for the Americans in Group D on Saturday night in Cleveland is Trinidad and Tobago, the plucky islanders who beat them on Oct. 10, 2017, in the World Cup qualifier that kept them home last summer from Russia and triggered a reexamination of the entire program. Panama beat the Soca Warriors 2-0 in the first match on Tuesday.
Minnesota became the 27th state — Washington, D.C., has hosted too — with a U.S. men’s national team match played within its borders. This one was at sparkling Allianz Field, the just-opened home of Major League Soccer club Minnesota United. With a vintage summer sunset falling beneath the curved canopy of European-style stadium at kickoff, the colored LED lights encircling the building after nightfall, and a raucous red, white and blue capacity crowd of 19,418 into the action the whole time, the atmosphere matched the performance .
The U.S. has 33 wins, one loss and four draws in the group stage of the Gold Cup, losing only to Panama in 2011.
World Cup qualifying failure allowed interim coach Dave Sarachan and later Berhalter to experiment often. They used 71 different players over the 18 exhibitions. Berhalter’s first competitive starting lineup featured Bradley , who was restored to the captaincy and assisted on Boyd’s first goal in the 51st minute. Zardes was at forward instead of veteran Jozy Altidore, who’s working his way back from leg injuries.
Injuries kept likely starters Tyler Adams, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin off the Gold Cup roster, but McKennie and fellow 20-year-old Pulisic were on the field at kickoff with Bradley as a trio for the first time. Pulisic, the Pennsylvania star who’s hoping to return the U.S. to international relevance, made his presence felt around the net despite not scoring. He was subbed out in the 62nd minute for Cristian Roldan.
Arriola, the only player who has been in all of Berhalter’s lineups since he took over six months ago, scored in the 28th minute . Boyd had an opportunity to immediately follow it after goalkeeper Akel Clarke pushed a shot to his right, but he wound up too hard and sent the ball sailing over the net and into the seats. The one-goal halftime lead gave Guyana some confidence.
“To be competitive in that fixture for the best part of an hour, we should be proud,” coach Michael Johnson said. “They worked their socks off.”
Boyd’s 51st minute-goal marked the 1,000th in program history, in match No. 700. Then came the goofy goal by Zardes that broke Guyana’s spirit.
“You see strikers, they can just smell things like that,” Berhalter said, grinning.
Zardes was too dazed to remember much about the celebration.
“My eye was just done for a little bit,” he said, “but I was happy that at least it wasn’t a concussion or anything.”
The Americans had plenty to be pleased about at the end of this one.