There will be misspellings, but I’m confident you will deal with them. :>
The off-year Gold Cups are always, well, entertaining. Last cycle’s off-year–2009–gave us the further emergence of Charlie Davies, the rightful gushing over the fair-haired guy from Houston (Stu Holden) and the folly of a flailing Luis Robles against Haiti. Thanks Stuey for smacking your 3-wood on a rope into the top right corner up New England way.
Whereas senior team observations are plentiful and more precise, perhaps, by comparison, the off-year Gold Cup represents the Christmas morning sensation that an unexpected present–perhaps a speedy flanker–may be unwrapped… or the inverse, the confirmation that the USMNT player pool is just too deep and two or three–novice or experienced–can’t swim with conviction or even tread water.
The Gold Cup is less about the system–a mere handful of capable players will emerge and they’ll most likely play their next game as complementary pawns to an A side rounding into form–and more about individual observation. It’s one of the few times with somewhat meaningful stakes (see CONCACAF Confed Cup changes) that it’s a player-specific, rather than team-specific set of observations.
That 2009 Gold Cup final showed that. Mexico brought in ringers Carlos Vela and Gio Dos Santos after the group stage who ripped open a US central defense pairing of Chad Marshall (remember when?) and Clarence Goodson (wait a second, it was apparent then?) to the tune of 5-zilch at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. While some pundits incorrectly choose to excoriate the moment–calling it a travesty that swung the door wide open for Mexico–it gave then-manager Bob Bradley at least three critical player observations: (1) Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson were clearly not ready to challenge for starting slots on the “A” team (correct), (2) Stu Holden and Charlie Davies could be counted on now to provide valuable “A” team minutes (correct) and (3) that Kyle Beckerman–for all his wondrous skill and talent–would be not be a cog in Bradley’s double-pivot system despite his talents as a single CDM (inconclusive).
On to the 2013 Gold Cup, let the player gushing and crushing flow like beer at TSG headquarters today. Ten questions–mostly player centric–to ponder:
Cut the guy some slack. He’s only the leading goal scorer in USMNT history.
He needed a break. So did Michael Jordan; no one batted an eye when he came back.
And Donovan–until recently–has largely been the MJ of the USMNT. Hard to deny that.
Donovan’s credentials are known; his shortcomings–making plays in traffic, reluctance to take over the game are still there.
It’s the former that he’ll need to improve on, not the latter. Dempsey is the US ace in the hole now and a role that better suits both of them.
However, for this Gold Cup team, he’ll need to show that he’s still got the attacking mustard as he should dominate the play. If he doesn’t, it will bring questions, not expulsion. Expulsion only comes with poor defense (don’t shake your head because Shea Salinas dusted Donovan a few times last Saturday night in Palo Alto) and commitment to the team ethos. Donovan, however, should be expected to come through with flying colors in both regards.
(2) Can Jose Torres pull himself up to an acceptable defensive and intensity level to contribute on the “A” team?
There’s no denying that Jose Torres has a unique skillset for the US player pool.
At Barcelona, they call it “La Pausa,” the ability to receive the ball, hold possession, take one or two touches to create new angles and then to distribute a pass–perhaps a pass that wasn’t there without a little hitch or turn of the hips–that may be all the difference in igniting the attack.
At TSG, we call Torres a “3-touch” player. Players like Michael Bradley and Danny Williams move the ball in as few–usually “2-touches”–as possible. They receive; they redistribute–the quicker they do this, the more effective the pass and its outcome usually is… for them.
Torres is that 3-touch player. The player who has the ability to hold on the ball and think, “where or who can I get this call to break down the defense.” It’s unique to the US. Clint Dempsey is an attacker. Michael Bradley is a visionary passer, but reluctant usually in possession. Jermaine Jones is Jermaine Jones. Landon Donovan is a vertical player, good at the pass when the defense is in motion.
Torres again is the opposite, he looks to go horizontal or at least diagonal. His card dealing works against more deep lying defenses. He takes a moment on the ball, perhaps drawing the defense to him or waiting for something to materialize.
However the moments of genius by Torres (USA-Scotland in 2012, USA-Turkey’s second half in 2010, USA-Costa Rica’s second half in 2009) are far too infrequent. Torres’s game is typically characterized by a breakdown on defense–his notoriously poor angle in a Costa Rica friendly in 2011 that led to a goal for the visitors at Carson–signaled to Klinsmann that Torres wasn’t going to just walk into the US central midfield–or what is perceived as apathetic play when the pressure is intense–witness his first half “work” against El Tri in the August 2011 friendly and you’ll come away wincing.
This may or may not be it for Torres. But if the scruff of the neck of his USMNT career was ever boarding on an Adam Moffatt-thick beard status that moment is now and Torres needs to be the barber, clipping chances left and right for the US while not suffering in the tackle–or it may be too late.
(3) How’s Stu Holden in the tackle?
Speaking of suffering in the tackle…. Stu Holden certainly deserves more rope than Torres. The Bolton Wanderer midfield is just returning to full fitness that has left him without a truly valuable minute in a US kit since Honduras 2009. Unbelievable, huh?
Holden of course is bordering on John O’Bren-legend-in-the-mind status with USMNT faithful and has shown even less. The consumate team player and excellent read-reactor of the game is attempting to get his chops up make a serious run at the Brazil 23 for Klinsmann.
In short observations of Holden–both at Bolton and in a USMNT kit–it’s clear that the once indefatiguable Holden is still not 90-minutes fit; that’s not the issue though as that will come through reps. With Holden, it’s a slight reluctance to get stuck-in; the quality that won the hearts of the EPL in 2010 and won Holden the league tackle title.
That Holden has yet to emerge. If it does–as Klinsmann needs it to given his predisposition to defensive integrity first–then Holden will be getting congratulatory USSF emails and flight plans for World Cup qualifiers come the Fall.
(4) Is Onyewu just out of practice or should he be out to lunch with Bocanegra?
The US has a problem–and don’t tell us you don’t see it. Omar Gonzalez is clearly not Brazil-ready. Will he kept there? It’s a highly important, but currently answerable riddle for the USMNT coaching staff.
For club and country, Gonzalez has suffered serious bouts of late-game lost focus syndrome that when paired with his skittishness in possession and challenges against speedy strikers, make his slot on the “A” team a major question mark.
Will Matt Besler seemingly locked down on the left side–at least for now–through his ability to read the game, make line calls and distribute quite effectively from the defensive recesses of the pitch, the US needs a force pushed slightly higher up the field on the right to win clearances and man-up target strikers.
It’s been sad here for months that this role can handled effectively by Stoke City man Geoff Cameron, however Klinsman appears to see Cameron as too similar to Besler–presumably (and unbelievably) in questioning the aerial prowess of both. Clarence Goodson respects the offsides trap as much as LMFAO respects song-writing.
So is the answer Oguchi Onyewu? You know what you get distribution-wise and aerial-wise with Gooch, but can he limit his costly moments of defensive folly (Brazil friendly 2012, Honduras 2009), because if not, he’s battling more with Goodson for the right to see as few minutes come next summer in South America.
(5) Is Jack McInerny a creation of Conor Casey or is he his own man?
Don’t look now, but Conor Casey is tearing it up without his battery mate Jack MacInerny in Philadelphia. TSG even suggested–we feel appropriately–that Casey should’ve at least made the 35-man for this year’s Gold Cup side.
An observation, of course, of Jack Mac shows a player that is growing in spades over the past year. Always a good route runner and poacher, McInerney is starting develop the part of his game that recognizes the threat he can become on the pass or as a decoy. It’s a maturation act in MLS this year only trumped by the otherworldly work that Chris Klute is putting in in Colorado.
McInerney is certainly not starter potential at this time–more because any system that Klinsmanm has used has favored target men to occupy defenders as a first selection in the game plan. He can’t really play on the flank because his 1-v-1 ability is not his strong suit, but–like Joe Gyau during the U-23 run–McInerny can and should be a very effective late game backline tiptoer to challenge a team that is pressing the US or in an up-down affair. It’s a skillset that no one has had on the US since Charlie Davies challenged curfew on a sad and rainy Washington D.C. night four years ago.
(6) What with ‘The Fiscal?
Welcome back Fiscal. See section on “Oneywu, Oguchi” and your passing needs to pass muster. His doesn’t.
(7) Does Joe Corona own this “B” team attack
Will the cycles that Joe Corona put in on the pine and in practice for the US A team over the past year finally bear fruit with his “B” team inclusion. To TSG, Corona was a force to be reckoned with the for the US U-23 team last year. He played a little Deuce-like, popping up in places to unleash a shot or finding himself on the end of a ball because he read it like Tim Duncan does a rebound. It’s probable that Klinsmann sees the same thing–not that Corona would remotely step into A team play if Deuce went down but mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery in sport.
Corona should be a starter on this team. He should dominate the ball and this should be his coming out party. Bet on it.
(8) Can Mix Master The D…and more?
What not to bet on? A three goal Jack Mac game, the US not struggling for at least a half in a cream puff group game, Will Bruin not scoring and….Mix Diskerud going bonkers in the middle.
It’s been a meandering national team trail for Diskerud whose flirtations with Norwegian team play will end once he steps on the field. Diskerud has excited in spot duty for the US (South Africa 2010, Russia 2012), but the most part the buzz on lanky playmaker has been his inability to master the tackle.
His game and plight almost reminds one of Sacha Kljestan circa 2009 around summer time. Kljestan has adept at playmaking vertically and showed flashes of stardom, only his consistency and two-way game was absent. Was Diskerud needs–as Kljestan’s game has shown–is quality play in a more difficult league. Diskerud may make some noise this summer, but reps at a higher club level should put him in the discussion more for 2018.
(9) Will the real Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson please stand-up, please stand-up?
You already know what Nick Rimando can do. Somewhat odd that few even considered the RSL stalwart for a potential captainy role. Sound crazy? Rimando calms defenses from the back with his organization and ability to maintain possession himself and distribute effectively. He’s taken wins in the CONCACAF Champion’s League down in Central America. And he’s seen it all.
Now though, the US’s two would-be goalkeepers of the future: Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid battle for second fiddle–a fiddle that in fact might be third with the sterling job that Cody Cropper did manning the pipes for the US U-20′s in Turkey. Of the two, Johnson is calmer under pressure and arguably a slightly better shot stopper. Hamid certainly challenges for that shot-stopping label and has no problem being physical. Both keepers need a lot of University of Phoenix time for managing their box though.
Keepers develop and are player later usually than outfield players, but both players need to show–at minimum–improvement in national team game situations.
(And let’s stop it with the Sean Johnson-Guatemala concession. Five outfield players had a chance to hack down, defend the Guatemalan counter that day and the ball took a ricochet. It’s an error and just that. All keepers have them and all good keepers keep moving forward.)
(10) Kyle “Armas” Beckerman
Kyle Beckerman is a winner and a leader. More so than any player than Michael Bradley, Beckerman can distribute forward under pressure from the midfield. With Klinsmann’s movement to the double pivot though, Beckerman has a chance to be the new Chris Armas for the US.–a player critical to the player pool with all the qualities you want who may not make a World Cup.
Let’s keep Beckerman just a wee bit advanced, hopefully, this Gold Cup and showing Klinsmann that if forced to go forward on occassion that he shows the chops that he often has at the MLS level.
» Last chance saloon Chris Wondolowski. See ball, receive ball, strike ball, see ball hit back of net.
» Does Michael Parkhurst get the start next to Clarence Goodson here at the outset? Or does Klinsmann pair two tall trees in Goodson and Gooch. Does Klinsmann still favor Parkhurst as a rightback at all?