The 2021 iteration of the Gold Cup is seen by many United States fans as an opportunity for a group of the country’s younger soccer stars to impress on the big stage.
That vision didn’t really come to fruition in the U.S.’s opening game against Haiti on Sunday, with a team filled to the brim with MLS experience squeaking out a 1-0 victory.
But on Thursday evening, the vision of a youthful men’s national team was realized when a U.S. team with an average age of 23 cruised to a 6-1 win over Martinique at Children’s Mercy Park.
“That’s the whole reason why we picked this roster and the reason why it was so important for us to battle test these guys before World Cup qualifying,” said U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter. “It’s going to be great, really looking forward to it.”
The effort was pushed by a pair of goals from 21-year-old Daryl Dike, who became the second-youngest player to score a brace in U.S. men’s national team history, slotting in behind Christian Pulisic.
An own goal from Martinique’s Samuel Camille denied Dike the hat trick. Second-half goals from Miles Robinson, Gyasi Zardes and KC hometown kid Nico Gioachhini completed the rout for the U.S.
Martinique’s lone goal came via a penalty just after the hour mark.
The announced crow was 7,511. Once the U.S. lineup was announced, that crowd had reason for excitement.
Names such as Sporting KC homegrown Gianluca Busio (19 years old), Matthew Hoppe (20), George Bello (19) and Dike (21) littered the starting lineup.
And the kids impressed.
“It’s a nice feeling when you give guys opportunities and they take advantage of it,” Berhalter said.
“I look at some of the other younger guys, like Busio, Bello, (James) Sands, Robinson, it was a really young group today and to have that performance and game, we wanted to win and we wanted to improve and we wanted to win convincingly,” he continued. “I think it shows the type of quality we have.”
Dike opened the scoring in the 14th minute, placing home an excellent header from his strike partner, Hoppe.
The game was the first in Hoppe’s pro career playing in front of a crowd. The winger made his debut for German team Schalke during the COVID-19 pandemic and, with Germany yet to welcome fans back into the stands, was experiencing a first in Children’s Mercy Park.
Less than 10 minutes later the scoreline was doubled.
Earning his first international start, Busio received the ball at his feet in the box and fired a shot past Martinique goalkeeper Gilles Meslien. The shot looked destined to go in. the back of the net.
But instead, it cracked off the underside of the crossbar, bounced just a couple of inches from the goal line, and spun back out toward the mess of players in the box. Dike was first to the loose ball and his header was eventually tumbled home by Martinique’s Camille.
The U.S. carried a 66% possession advantage into halftime and didn’t slow down in the second half as Robinson extended the lead to three in the 50th minute.
The defender headed home into an empty goal after 24-year-old Eryk Williamson, who was making just his second-ever national team appearance, lobbed the ball into the 6-yard box for Robinson to score.
The duo of Busio and Williamson arguably controlled the game for the U.S., as Busio dictated the tempo of the game and Williamson looked to turn and attack every time he had the ball.
Dike claimed his second goal of the game in the 59th minute before being substituted off for veteran Zardes who carried on from the youngster’s work with a goal of his own.
“I think he performed well and scored some good goals, he showed why we really rate him and think he’s an important part of our team,” Berhalter said of Dike.
But the true excitement for Kansas Citians was held until the final minutes.
As the clock ticked over to 90 minutes, Busio slotted a low cross across the face of the goal to 20-year-old Overland Park-born Gioacchini. The roar from the Kansas City crowd was the loudest it was all night, despite victory already secured.
The win secures the U.S. qualification from Group B and into the knockout stage, but the U.S. sits behind Canada on goals scored.
Canada defeated Haiti 4-1 on Thursday before the U.S. took the field at Children’s Mercy Park. With the U.S. and Canada tied on goal differential, Canada holds the top spot in the group having scored one more goal.
“We pushed and unfortunately we didn’t score that last one, but we’re still in good positions to get first in the group and that’s the goal that we’re setting within the U.S. Men’s National Team,” midfielder Cristian Roldan said.
The U.S. and Canada will face off at Children’s Mercy Park for first place on Sunday at 4 p.m.