USMNT: Donovan Does Dallas

Everyone knows you have to leave early if you want to get anywhere in Chicago on time. (photo: sports.yahoo.com)

Everyone knows you have to leave early if you want to get anywhere in Chicago on time. (photo: sports.yahoo.com)

OTF’s Austin Fido is so immersed in CONCACAF, he’s started submitting 24-48 hours late…

In the 87th minute of USMNT’s Gold Cup semifinal against Honduras, Jürgen Klinsmann lost his shit. Having witnessed USA captain DaMarcus Beasley evade a concerted Honduran effort to perform an on-field amputation, only to be guilelessly hacked down from behind as he recovered his balance, Jürgie erupted.

Well, he shouted at the referee and petulantly bounced the ball back onto the field. For a man who generally appears to be on the verge of spontaneous meditation, such antics are indicative of overwhelming rage. No surprise, therefore, when the referee commanded Klinsi be escorted from the field. Whence, one assumes, he was taken to a hastily arranged incantation of yogic mantras, accompanied by the burning of incense prepared from loose strands of Kyle Beckerman’s hair, the essence of Landon Donovan’s solitude in Cambodia, and one of Chris Wondolowski’s spare “W”s.

While Jürgie reconnected with his inner calm, his team closed out another dominant victory: 3-1. The win had been all but assured since the 53rd minute: the moment Donovan’s second re-established his side’s two goal lead. The goal was his fifth of the tournament, his personal best in Gold Cup.

Horizontal stripes are occasionally more flattering than vertical.(photo: mlssoccer.com)

Horizontal stripes are occasionally more flattering than vertical.(photo: mlssoccer.com)

It is unreasonable to expect more from Donovan than the seven goals and six consecutive wins currently comprising this chapter of his career. So let’s be unreasonable. The July 28th Soldier Field final should render unto Landon a fourth CONCACAF Gold Cup title, and his first tournament MVP award. If he outscores Gabriel Torres and Chris Wondolowski during the match, he will be the competition’s sole top scorer for the first time. (Donovan was joint top of the scoring chart in the 2003 and 2005 editions of Gold Cup.)

It should be harder for Donovan to score against Panama than it was against Honduras. Los Catrachos made things easy by repeatedly allowing USMNT to tear through the middle of their defense. For Eddie Johnson’s 11th minute goal, the ball — aided by Johnson’s intelligent dummy run — rolled untouched from Clarence Goodson at the halfway line through four opposing midfielders to Donovan, who laid it back into Johnson’s path for a straightforward sprint to goal.  The second was, if anything, more direct: Johnson flicked on Nick Rimando’s goal kick, Alejandro Bedoya got just far enough in front of Juan Carlos Garcia to lob a pass to Donovan, who half-volleyed beyond Donis Escober. It was a similar story for the third: Goodson lumped a long ball into the box, Bedoya beat his man and crossed for Donovan to score again.

The third goal arrived just a minute after Honduras had found hope of contesting the match, scoring from a set-piece to remind USMNT fans of their team’s difficulty in sustaining concentration when the winning comes this easily. In remarkably similar fashion to the goal conceded against Belize, Nery Medina simply wasn’t marked by anyone in a striped jersey. Perhaps this was the moment Klinsi’s composure cracked.

The second best team in Gold Cup (photo: ibtimes.com)

The second best team in Gold Cup (photo: ibtimes.com)

El Tri’s lamentable 2013 has contrived to rob Gold Cup of its expected finale. Despite the sense of anti-climax, USA-Panama is the final the competition deserves. Both teams are there on merit: both unbeaten, and for Los Canaleros to beat Mexico twice inside one month is every bit as impressive as USMNT’s exuberant stampede over its challengers.

In Panama, the Yanks will find a settled team, emboldened by beating El Tri for the first, and second, time in the nation’s soccer history. Head coach Julio Dely Valdes has started the same ten players for every game, save the irrelevant group stage fixture against Canada. If Blas Perez had been available from the start, the first-choice Panama side would likely have been unchanged from the opening match to the final.

Jaime Penedo is the undisputed starting ‘keeper. Expect to see Roman Torres and Roberto Chen continue as the robust core to Los Canaleros back line. Leonel Parris and Carlos Rodriguez are full backs who get forward effectively. Gabriel Gomez pairs with Anibal Godoy in central midfield, both players functioning primarily as ball-winners looking to distribute to the flanks as often as they can.

Out wide, Alberto Quintero typically plays left, Marcos Sanchez on the right. However, in the semifinal, they swapped sides. This arrangement worked just as well: Quintero set up the first goal, Sanchez’s combination with Rodriguez won the corner which led to Roman Torres’s match-winner.

Up front, Gabriel Torres (reportedly on the verge of joining Colorado Rapids) and FC Dallas’s Blas Perez have scored eight goals between them for the tournament. That might not be much compared to USMNT’s record in this Gold Cup, but it is as many goals as Mexico managed in the entire competition.

This season's must-have MSL signing: A 24-year-old with a shot at playing in Brazil 2014. (photo: cbc.ca)

This season’s must-have MLS signing: a 24-year-old with a shot at playing in Brazil 2014. (photo: cbc.ca)

Had El Tri brought a striker with form to match Panama’s front two, we would be watching a different final at Soldier Field. Indeed, that is the reason why, for all their impressive work to date, a Gold Cup win for Los Canaleros is extremely unlikely. They simply have not played a team with the attacking confidence of USMNT so far in this tournament.

Certainly, expect Panama’s formidable wide play to test USMNT’s flanks; doubtless, Perez or Torres can spur attacks through the middle. But that merely suggests the Yanks will concede a goal, which they have done regularly.

Nick Rimando hasn’t had a clean sheet in this tournament yet. This USA squad has fulfilled the promise implied when it was selected: it is almost impossible for Jürgie to send out a defensive line up, because the majority of the squad is comprised of attack-minded players; they may start slowly, but they will finish fast. And the Panamanian defense is sufficiently vulnerable to make both wins over Mexico seemingly owe more to the shortcomings of El Tri than the strengths of Los Canaleros. Panama coped with Mexico, but never really dominated.

The Yanks have little trouble finding the net. Only Costa Rica came close to neutralizing USMNT’s offensive threat, but Los Canaleros’ defensive work does not look any more capable than Los Ticos’. Indeed, Dely Valdes almost owes it to his players to let them continue with the approach that has got them to the final: wide, forward-looking football. Not least because keeping the ball wide takes it further away from Landon Donovan.

You know where (photo: espn.go.com)

You know where (photo: espn.go.com)

So it is not the CONCACAF Clásico Chicago was hoping for, but it could be a final to remember: an end-to-end showdown between two sides whose best work is done in the attacking third.

One hopes for a fitting finale to — B-teams notwithstanding — the showpiece tournament for soccer in our region. A region relying almost exclusively on its players to raise the standard of the sport, since our administrators appear to lack both the competence and the backbone. CONCACAF, an organization apparently incapable of selling a second-hand Hummer (see pg. 63 of this report, section titled “Hummer”), is not very good at running soccer tournaments.

CONCACAF's mess in Texas (photo: worldsoccertalk.com)

CONCACAF’s mess in Texas (photo: worldsoccertalk.com)

Already this year, we have seen a televised misunderstanding of the rules governing the CONCACAF Champions League group stage draw, as well as the baffling decision to allow Cowboys Stadium to lay a patchwork of washcloths over concrete and call it a Gold Cup playing surface.

The latest failure relates to Jürgie’s semifinal sideline tantrum. The situation mirrors, near exactly, a similar incident in 2005: USMNT head coach, Bruce Arena, loses his temper during a semifinal against Los Catrachos; USMNT head coach gets suspended for the final against Panama. This is called precedent; it is regarded as an aid to decision-making.

Thus CONCACAF’s Communications Director, Jürgen Mainka, was entirely justified in telling the press Klinsmann would be watching this weekend’s final from the Soldier Field stands. And by the same token, it was odd to hear Mainka walking back his assertion not 30 minutes later (sufficient time for an unfortunate lackey to scour the Gold Cup regulations), announcing there was no automatic suspension conferred on a coach, and to expect a decision by the competition’s Disciplinary Committee in “24-48 hours”, after reviewing the referee’s report.

After the expiry of that self-imposed time limit, a decision was finally announced: Klinsi will be suspended for the final. Why it took two days to confirm is a matter CONCACAF’s communications staff will be evading for some time.

To my mind, little beyond the desire for a free lunch can explain why this wasn’t settled over a conference call within an hour of the referee submitting his report. Either the report justified a suspension, or it did not.

Once again, CONCACAF’s desire for “transparency and integrity” appears subordinate to its executives’ interest in fully-catered committee meetings.

OTF’s Austin Fido finds “first we meet, then we eat” is an effective policy for reaching consensus. Follow him @canetop.

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