USMNT: Going for Gold Cup
Gold Cup is coming! OTF’s Austin Fido casts an eye over the USMNT squad in the tournament…
For perhaps the first time in his tenure as the head coach of the US Men’s National Team, Jürgen Klinsmann can relax. He has very little to prove in the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup.
USMNT is all but going to Brazil in 2014. Three wins from three games in June put the Yanks in full control of their World Cup Qualifying destiny. So while other teams (looking at you, El Tri) may be in need of a Gold Cup pick-me-up, USMNT is not.
If anything, the tournament could only serve to damage the morale of Klinsi’s Hexagonal heroes, as a few disappointing results could undermine the hard-won confidence in the squad. Hence the smart decision to turn Gold Cup into a month-long audition for reserve slots in Klinsmann’s first-team plans.
In point of fact, this year’s Gold Cup has looked likely to be a B-team affair for some time. Both USMNT and El Tri named reserve-heavy preliminary rosters. The 23-man squads for the teams expected to contest the Cup final bear little resemblance to those that carried the flags of their respective nations through June’s congested international fixture list.
And that is why this Gold Cup should be a lot of fun. There will be some new(ish) names to enjoy, and maybe a freak result or two along the way. But we’ll get to that in due course.
For the moment, as a prelude to USMNT’s warm-up match with Guatemala on July 5th, here’s a look at the squad assembled for the tournament.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando
It will be a shock if Nick Rimando isn’t the third goalkeeper selected for the World Cup squad. And he is the presumptive starter for the duration of USMNT’s July fixtures. The Yanks’ Gold Cup schedule discourages any left-field selections between the pipes. The most challenging group match will be USMNT’s last — against Costa Rica (July 16th). Therefore, it’s likely Klinsmann will allow Rimando to get settled with his defenders in the preceding games rather than throw Hamid or Johnson into the mix.
As such, perhaps the most interesting question regarding the ‘keepers in this squad is whether or not Klinsi allows one of the two perma-subs to return to their club side after the group stage. CONCACAF rules allow for up to four players in each squad to be replaced at that stage, and both Johnson and Hamid are rather important to Chicago Fire and DC United, respectively.
If you are a Fire fan, that potentially puts you in the curious position of rooting for Bill Hamid’s near-term USMNT prospects over those of Sean Johnson. Not least because the replacement ‘keeper would be Tally Hall (replacements have to be selected from the 35-man preliminary roster), and the Fire play Houston on July 27th — the week after playing DC.
Happy days for Fire fans if Sean Johnson is given early release from the national team camp while the Dynamo and DC struggle on without their first-choice ‘keepers. It’s a wild and crazy idea, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
DEFENDERS (8): Corey Ashe, DaMarcus Beasley, Tony Beltran, Edgar Castillo, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Michael Parkhurst
Is DaMarcus Beasley a defender? I’m not sure that it matters. He’s listed as such on the official roster, which is sufficient for the purposes of this analysis. Beasley’s selection to this squad was heralded as a surprise by some given that most of the stalwarts of the June Hex campaign were not selected for this tournament.
But Klinsi didn’t have many choices: he named 11 defenders to his preliminary squad, of whom Besler and Gonzalez were always likely to be left out. The surprise is Carlos Bocanegra’s omission, which Klinsmann has said is because the former Fire man needed a clear schedule to find a new club.
That was a fact, and there’s no reason to doubt Klinsmann’s word, so we’ll have to accept it: Bocanegra was out of the squad pending a return to full-time employment. It remains to be seen whether Chivas USA’s tragi-comic stumble to extinction is an appropriate platform for a renewed international career.
All of that left room and requirement for DaMarcus Beasley. He’s not the Fire and Rangers veteran many expected to see in the USMNT’s Gold Cup squad, but he’s the one we have – and he’s the captain. Surprising to me, as I did’t expect Beasley to play much during the group stages, or necessarily at all. He put in enough work in the Hex to be considered a favorite for the starting left back position (you say you prefer Fabian Johnson? Fair enough, we’ll see how that plays out.), and if this isn’t the time to explore Ashe or Castillo’s abilities, that time may never come.
At center back, Clarence Goodson (last seen impotently chasing Romelu Lukaku’s shadow) gets a shot at redemption. As does Oguchi Onyewu: the man I would most like to see enjoy a successful tournament. Orozco Fiscal and Parkhurst could also play in the middle, but they’ll more likely duke it out with Tony Beltran for the right back spot.
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Joshua Gatt, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres
If there’s one thing we know about Jürgen Klinsmann’s tactical predilections, it’s that he loves a midfield anchorman. Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, latterly Geoff Cameron, even Michael Bradley can fill that role if required. It’s clear Klinsmann likes some crunch in the middle of the park. So it is a tad surprising that more midfield muscle didn’t make it into the final selection. Kyle Beckerman is the lonely standard-bearer for the holding midfielder’s art.
But there wasn’t a lot of midfield muscle on the preliminary roster to begin with. Cases in point, Brad Evans and Benny Feilhaber are solid players but not necessarily steely. Instead, Klinsmann has gone for a thrilling collection of skill players and pace-men. Not forgetting Landon Donovan’s inclusion in the squad, this is a midfield founded on speed and wit.
Alejandro Bedoya is arguably the hottest attacking player in the squad. He’s lighting up Sweden’s Allsvenskan for Helsinborgs IF: five goals and four assists in thirteen league matches. Josh Gatt is the guy I’d like to see most, but the wide-man took a knock in his last club match and may need some time to recover.
Regardless of the selection however, this midfield group virtually guarantees an attacking formation for every match and provides some interesting counterpoints for the belief that Landon Donovan is the most dangerous creative player available to USMNT.
FORWARDS (5): Will Bruin, Landon Donovan, Herculez Gomez, Jack McInerney, Chris Wondolowski
Is this Landon Donovan’s last chance for USMNT? No. He’ll continue to be mentioned every time the national team gets together for as long as he cares to play soccer.
Even if he plays extraordinarily well in this tournament, scores in every match, and gets himself back into the first-team player pool, that won’t put an end to the speculation about Donovan’s future. The caveats are ready: Belize is not Bosnia; los Ticos were fatigued; that wasn’t even the second-best team Mexico could put out, etc. But at least we’ll be talking about Donovan’s football rather than his favored vacation spots.
It will be more interesting to see which of the other forwards step up in this tournament. NOTE: I just saw Will Bruin clanging around the penalty areas of Red Bull Arena and it reminded me that forcing a bear to dance is cruel.
Bruin’s the only target forward in this squad (unless Alan Gordon gets called up after the group stages) and if he plays he should get plenty of service from all the wingers Klinsmann has selected. He may be one for the future, but it appears Bruin’s selection for this tournament is because Klinsi can’t send a Jozy Altidore cut-out onto the field. Someone needs to play the Altidore role in order for the coach to figure out who can provide service into the box. I don’t think Will Bruin has a chance in hell of going to the World Cup in 2014, but a strong showing this month should keep him in the frame for the next cycle.
Herculez Gomez is in because he didn’t see much time during the Hex. Injury curtailed his contribution to the June qualifiers. And it will be interesting to see whether we get a preview of how Gomez might combine with his new Club Tijuana teammates, Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo. After all, CONCACAF Champions’ League is coming soon…
There will be a great many eyes on Jack McInerney. He’s scoring lots of goals in MLS and he’s not yet 21. There’s nothing but upside to Jack Mac. I hope Gonzalez and Donovan don’t squeeze the youngster out of the line up. There’s no reason why he can’t play alongside those two. He’s a different sort of player, but his minutes will depend upon the formations Klinsmann uses.
And finally, there’s Chris Wondolowski. Someone is in this squad because Bobby Wood turned down the call-up. My money is it’s Wondo. His scoring has subsided this season. Jürgen Klinsmann knows more about being a striker than most, and he certainly knows there are times when the ball just doesn’t go in for you. More often than not, those are the times when you get left out of squads.
Whatever the reason though, Wondo is in the team. Perhaps he’s simply functioning as a performance incentive to the other forwards? I don’t think Wondolowski — with the greatest respect to his achievements in MLS — is getting a seat on the plane to Brazil. That said, I am certain that anyone who loses their place to Wondo during this tournament will be watching the World Cup on TV.
OTF contributor Austin Fido is curious to know the appropriate hashtag for CONCACAF Gold Cup. Let him know @canetop.