By Jon Levy
The following is the first in a four part series comparing the 2011 Gold Cup rosters of the two “giants of CONCACAF.”
The Yanks: Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
El Tri: Guillermo Ochoa (Club America), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jonathan Orozco (Monterrey)
This is definitively the “feel good” section of the roster analysis, so enjoy it USMNT fans. Mexico is finally on the right track with respect to the selected goalkeepers. Yes, manager de la Torre initially picked José de Jesús Corona as a reserve again, but he decided to boot the head-butting, bar-fighting keeper off the squad for violent conduct just as former manager Jávier Aguirre did prior to lastyear’s World Cup. Aside from that hiccup, El Tri is successfully moving in the direction of youth and athleticism, both areas of Mexican goalkeeping strength. I know one could argue that the geriatric and diminutive Óscar Pérez made some athletic looking saves in South Africa, but to be honest, even routine saves make the highlight reel when the keeper making them is five foot eight. All twenty Florida Marlin baseball fans will recognize this as a variation on the “Chuck Carr fallacy.” Carr, the franchise’s first ever centerfielder, quickly earned a reputation for making amazing grabs, but it became all too evident that the outfielder had no ability to judge the ball coming off the bat and was using his speed to just barely reach what would have been routine fly ball outs for most players.
Starters: El Tri’s true athleticism, and of course its youth, is best exemplified by now incumbent starter Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa. The 25 year old already has 42 senior caps, and sticking with the baseball analogy, his range factor is off the charts. Just check out this Allstate commercial that ran last summer. Of course that ad made us all chuckle when it began airing because Ochoa had choked away his starting job at the worst possible time and was supplanted by the relic-esque Pérez for the World Cup. Those last couple sentences really tell the tale of Ochoa. He may have hoisted the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup over a far-from-first-team Yanks squad, but he still has positional deficiencies that cause managers to second guess him in spite of his amazing athletic ability.
And even with respect to his greatest strength, the aforementioned natural ability, Ochoa still doesn’t out-do America’s Tim Howard. “Memo” will out-flamboyant Timmy any day of the week. And he certainly has the better hair of the two keepers. But no GK on this side of the Atlantic, save maybe Brazil’s Júlio César, is going to out-athlete America’s finest. Take into account Howard’s extreme technical proficiency, aptitude for positioning both himself and his defenders, and tendency to shine in big matches, and the Yank gets the nod.
Depth: We’ll start with the probable third stringers because they’re pretty much a wash, and likely won’t see the pitch anyway (the American isn’t even scheduled to join the team for the tournament or miss any MLS matches!). Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando and Monterrey’s Jonathan Orozco faced off in this year’s epic two legged CONCACAF Champions League Final, and despite the latter’s master class at Rio Tinto, there’s not much actual disparity between the overall value of the players. Both are consistently good keepers in their respective domestic leagues who can do a job for a national team if called upon. Rimando will likely not be called upon to leave his club unless there’s an injury on the national team, but Orozco’s situation is slightly more interesting. Jonathan was called into the Gold Cup squad after Corona’s dismissal for pulling a Zinedine Zidane on an opposing club’s trainer. Corona looked to be El Tri’s second stringer, so there’s a slim chance that still relatively new Mexico manager José Manuel de la Torre will let Orozco compete for the spot behind Ochoa.
Current backup-by-default Alfredo Talavera provides a more interesting case when juxtaposed with his American counterpart. The long and instinctual Toluca keeper hasn’t kept a clean sheet since February, and that’s a long time even in the high scoring Primera de México. But he’s an entrenched starter for his club and helped Toluca win a championship last May. He earned his first cap in March, keeping goal in El Tri’s 3-1 drubbing of Paraguay. Meanwhile, Marcus Hahnemann is the American number two for this tournament because Brad Guzan prioritized his nuptials over the Gold Cup (strange scenario, but best of luck to Brad, who should still be viewed as the heir apparent to Timmy). Hahnemann is a responsible keeper and an eternally loyal soldier in Coach Bobbo’s army, but he’s a year older and a year removed from the heroic role he played in Wolverhampton’s 09/10 English Premier League survival. Marcus was benched in the middle of this year’s Premier League campaign by Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, and he’ll celebrate his 39th birthday during the tournament. So what do you value more? The slightly off-form Mexican keeper’s athleticism and upside? Or the out-of-playing-time American’s responsible style and experience against top level competition? Even if this “matchup” isn’t a draw, it’s a very, very close call.
As always, we at The Yanks Are Coming encourage your comments and discussion! Check back soon for the second in our four part series, “Getting Defensive.”
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.