Neil W. Blackmon
Jurgen Klinsmann’s Gold Cup roster was released yesterday, and it is a veteran-heavy group that should be the favorites to lift the trophy for the first time since Benny Feilhaber’s blast-heard-round-the-continent in 2007. Here is the roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3) : Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8) : Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Oguchi Onyewu (Malaga), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg)
MIDFIELDERS (7) : Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsinborg), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Joshua Gatt (Molde FK), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jose Torres (Tigres)
FORWARDS (5) : Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Club Tijuana), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
First, it is difficult to have much disagreement with who was selected- this is a very good, deep, competitive team. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I feel Juan Agudelo has been good enough at club level to be on this squad. I would have chosen him over Wondolowski. Klinsmann indicated at his presser yesterday that he wants to see Agudelo become more consistent with his play at the club level. I think this is a silly claim in the face of some of his selections– Agudelo has been splendid this year and has shown marked improvement in areas of the game where he previously was frustrated, including, but not limited to, his decision-making and ability to play the right ball, his movement off the ball, his willingness to track back when necessary (which was a bunch at Chivas) and his final ball distributions. Chivas wasn’t great with him, but they are miserable without him. He earned a look.
I also continue to believe that Dax McCarty’s continued omission from Klinsmann’s plans is a mistake. We’ve moved past oversight, and it is difficult to sell me on at least two of Klinsmann’s midfield choices being more worthy than McCarty. It’s time to get McCarty involved, and the Gold Cup was the perfect opportunity.
Second, Josh Gatt played a couple of nice matches in Norway of late, but you know he needs a good camp because he’s here instead of with his club for the European qualifying matches. Even if it is an abbreviated camp for Gatt (unlikely since he’s on this 23), the speedy winger needs to play well. Internationally, outside of a good performance against Russia, we haven’t yet seen him influence the game the way American fans had hoped he would. He’s not a very capable defender at this stage in his career, and the pace and physicality of the international game at times seem overwhelming to him. A good camp for Gatt would mean showing Klinsmann a commitment to defending when he’s not particularly involved offensively, an ability to pick his head up when he’s running on the ball, as such demonstrating that he’s not just “playing fast” for the sake of “playing fast”, and better distributions (or any distributions) when he is in threatening positions. Too often we’ve seen him late to make a pass, or not make a pass, fall down and complain about a foul that didn’t occur while not hustling to defend the ensuing counter. That needs to stop or he won’t be anywhere near the plane next summer.
Third, with an experienced center midfield and a veteran back four, the American forwards will have a real chance to shine. Klinsmann will have his choice of veterans in the back, including the “I swear I’m not dead as a USMNT contributor” Malaga man Oguchi Onyewu. Communication might be an issue early in camp but as a unit, this is one of the better groups in the tournament, and they should be helped with Kyle Beckerman shielding and directing traffic in front of them. In the knockout stages, Klinsmann has already hinted that Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez may return, making the group even stronger. That means the forwards will have a great chance to get after it, and given lingering questions about Herculez Gomez’s fitness, this is a last-chance-saloon or first-chance-to-make-a-last-impression saloon for guys like Will Bruin and goal-scoring machine Jack Mac. I’m with my friends at The Shin Guardian who note the fact that Bruin has really missed a partner like Jack Mac this year with the Dynamo– and that could be an interesting pair to start up top. We shall see.
Fourth, Jose Torres needs to be put in the right positions if he’s going to start. Jose Francisco Torres is a good soccer player. He is. But he also suffers from a lack of investment when he’s not deeply involved in attack, and I’m not sure he has the tools of a # 10 or the physicality necessary to play up front in a two-man midfield He needs a six behind him and a player in front of him who understands how to cycle attack through him. Torres is your classic NFL running back that has a bad game when he doesn’t get escalating carries as the game proceeds, but often has a great game when he’s given the rock repeatedly, regardless of sluggish early results. Think Michael Turner in his prime or Clinton Portis in his. In Torres’ finest US performances, like the one highlighted in the video below against Turkey just prior to the 2010 World Cup, Torres has been a cycling central midfielder whose teammates understand that even if it is just a brief shift-the-attack pass or short distribution, Torres becomes better as he is increasingly involved. In the Turkey match, Torres was able to parlay consistent distributions in the second half into strong defending, winning two-three balls on direct challenges and doing the dirty work to slow what in the first half had been impressive Turkish buildups on countless other occasions. In the Slovenia match, he was far less involved, and far more tentative. This isn’t a coincidence. The key to Torres is involvement, and the key to ensuring involvement is putting him in effective positions. His inclusion on this team is an interesting tactical test for Jurgen Klinsmann, especially because Stuart Holden is here too, and Klinsmann has indicated he thinks the Bolton man is fit.
Finally, this tournament is really about Landon Donovan. It’s easy and lazy, I guess, to write that this championship, which would give the US a berth into a playoff for the 2017 Confederations Cup, is about the return of Landon Donovan to the USMNT fold, but sometimes the easy answer is the correct one. Donovan is the finest field player in the history of American soccer. He’s no longer the finest US player in CONCACAF, and he’s no longer the finest player in MLS. But he remains an excellent attacking talent, a creative player and an outstanding passer with a good deal of pace. As good as Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson have been of late from width, Landon Donovan has played against elite teams for a long time at both club and the international level. What his role could be with the “A” team remains up in the air, but there is no question from a purely footballing perspective he can help the US be better.
There are chemistry questions, to be sure. Players may resent his “I’m out, okay, now I’m back” attitude. But remember two things when you consider that question. First, when he was omitted from Klinsmann’s qualifying group six weeks ago, many were concerned. It seemed dumb to omit Donovan just to motivate him while your team was in a qualifying dogfight. Nine points later, those concerns seem silly- but don’t be blinded by hindsight. If he was omitted to motivate him, that’s still silly. Second, Clint Dempsey is the captain of this team and he wants Donovan back in the side. Dempsey might be a quiet leader, but he’s voiced his opinion on this issue and I don’t think any of the younger players with mess with Texan. A good Gold Cup for Donovan will help eliminate any lingering resentments, but the larger point is the chemistry issue isn’t as big a problem as some are making it out to be. Other vets agree. “We all know he belongs”, DaMarcus Beasley said. “Now he four or five game to show it.”
Let’s hope it is more games than that.