The CONCACAF Gold Cup has begun, with a couple of surprises – including Mexico’s opening match defeat to Panama. For us it really gets started tonight as the USA takes on Belize in Portland (10:00 CST, Fox Soccer). Only in CONCACAF does the regional championship routinely feature ‘B’-level squads from its top two teams, yet those teams (USA and Mexico) still expect to win.
This year’s Gold Cup is a little different, though. This year’s winner will square off against the 2015 winner for the right to go to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia (the World Cup Warm-up event that just finished in Brazil). So the Gold Cup does matter this time.
The tourney is also a nice way for the CONCACAF bureaucrats to make some money, get their teams on TV, and get some of the smaller teams more competitive. Bonus points if you can guess the number of Cubans who end up defecting, and the number of unknown MLS signees-of-the-future to be seen in this Gold Cup.
Most importantly, the Gold Cup is a chance to see some National Team fringe guys and depth guys make their case for inclusion in next summer’s 23-man World Cup Roster. Five points we will be tracking throughout the tourney:
- Return of the Landon – LD is back with the team, and appears to be back to form. He scored two against Guatemala in the tune-up, and should get several more during the Gold Cup. How much can he influence the game, and when? Where will he be deployed? Most important, how much does Landon want it? Because that’s what Jurgen Klinsmann’s really looking for. Donovan can and should dominate for stretches against CONCACAF foes. We expect he will make his case for re-integration into the starting line-up when World Cup Qualifying resumes.
- Jurgen’s Tactics – Since the snow game agains Costa Rica, Klinsmann has had his team well-prepared and executing. The one hiccup against Belgium non-withstanding, the US has been rolling. Will he continue to put the right players in the correct places? Will he continue to adjust and motivate as needed? The wing-swaps and occasional switch to a two-striker formation have worked well for Jurgen. Now about defending those set-pieces…
- Centerback depth-charges – If you ask a veteran US National Team watcher, whats the position of gravest concern, the likely answer is centerback. Klinsmann has gone with the Besler-Gonzalez combo the last few games, but this partnership seems shaky and not exactly solid. Matt Besler seems like the best option but who else can you slot in? Oguchi Onyewu and Clarence Goodson get first crack. This is your likely Gold Cup central defensive tandem, and they will be challenged by speed and quickness. Does Michael Orozco-Fiscal get another shot?
- Midfield Logjam – Holden, Diskerud, Corona, Torres, Bedoya, Shea. These midfielders all have a legit chance of working their way onto the final roster for Brazil. Stuart Holden could be working for significant minutes if his injury recovery march continues. Who will shine? Who works well together and with known quantities like Herculez Gomez, Landon, and DaMarcus Beasley? Which combination can dictate tempo and maintain poise when things break badly?
- Mexico Seppuku Watch – El Tri have won exactly two of their last 13 games. This includes the opening round loss to Panama. It’s fairly amazing that Mexico coach Chepo de la Torre still has a job. They haven’t looked fluid or comfortable for some time, and they have a very inexperienced B-side in this tourney. USA fans like us are hoping to get the old enemy in the knock-out round, while they’re down. They could turn it around, but it appears the El Tri Seppuku has begun for this cycle. Chepo needs to win the Gold Cup, because the Mex-fed is standing by to finish with the beheading.