Jurgen, Landon, and the boys have brought the Gold Cup back to U.S. Soccer. It’s our region’s championship (flawed as it is), which we equate directly to winning your conference or division championship in other sports. The goal is to win it, but it’s not the ultimate or final goal. Still, in terms of a barometer (or benchmark, as Jurgen would say), this is a competition you want to win as a building block for Brazil 2014.
The 1-0 victory in Chicago’s final had a few surprises. First, that so many fans who likely initially bought tickets to cheer for Mexico showed up to support the U.S. Yes, we are a county of divided loyalties among a large segment of our fandom, but this is still a sign of progress. Second, that the USA was unable to score more goals on Panama (EJ should have had a second), although the Panamanians are looking tough and should be on track to qualify for the World Cup.
Probably the most positive and welcome surprise is the first point in our post-Gold Cup Pentagram…
- Jurgen’s stratagems have taken hold – Coach Klinsmann was roundly criticized early in World Cup Qualifying due to player selections and tactics: wrong formation, inability to generate offensive pressure, lack of defensive cohesion. While the latter remains a concern, the US has shown considerable discipline and adaptability over this current winning streak. Jurgen’s gameplan for breaking down bunkered opponents starts with confidence on the ball and identification of potential vulnerable counterattack areas, as was demonstrated against Panama. If you compare the way this team is playing with possession versus the disjointed way Bob Bradley’s teams played in similar games, you’ll see a marked contrast.
- But how does this translate against elite teams? That’s the big question right now. It’s one thing to boss the game against El Salvador; it’s something else to face France or Argentina when you won’t control possession and you’ll have to defend for long stretches. This kind of defend-and-counter plan was once the bread-and-butter of the US team. How the coaching staff implements the ‘underdog plan’ is critical to the next eight months leading up to Brazil. Expect a slew of higher profile friendly opponents shortly.
- Landon – Mr. 60-60? LD10’s return to the team saw him surpass the 50 goal and 50 assist all time mark for his international career. If he continues to play like this 60/60 isn’t out of the question. Landon has always been very fun to watch when his head is right and he wants to be there. Assuming this continues, you can pencil him in at the top of USA lineups along with Dempsey and Bradley through Brazil. He’s such a smart player, he’s so technical and quick, the other team just has to gameplan for him from the outset. This should make Dempsey, Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and others even more effective.
- Fringe players looking in. Several players received their first extended looks this Gold Cup, while others got the opportunity to re-stake claims. At the top of our list: Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, and Clarence Goodson. Diskerud and Corona showed quality on the attack and bite and commitment when defending. Mix has some flair and creativity to go with an unexpected workrate. Corona has vision, technical savvy, and a nose for goal. Meanwhile Goodson commanded his area, passed well, and moved up from fringe to solid backup. While Clarence has always had trouble against higher level teams, he does provide good cover. Kyle Beckerman made a case for backup duty, while Brek Shea showed well as a change-of-pace attacking sub. Joey Torres may have also made a case at left mid. Sadly, with news of his latest knee injury, Stuart Holden recedes to the fringes again even as he started to ascend.
- No time to celebrate. The domestic players return to their MLS teams, while the international-based guys head to pre-season camp. Meanwhile Jurgen continues to explore the dual-citizen angle with multi-passport holders John Anthony Brooks and Arron Johannsson already announced for the August roster in Bosnia. Suddenly the US is a high pressure, competitive national team with many more players than roster spots. We only take 23 guys to Brazil. As the players continue their club seasons, this will surely be on the back of their minds. You could argue that 14-15 spots are relatively set, but that still leaves 8-9 spots up for grabs. The objectives for this Gold Cup were always to 1) Win it, and 2) Develop and explore the roster depth. Jurgen is surely pleased on both accounts. And, hey, as a bonus we also saw some domination and a lot of goals*:
*Yes, we are fully aware that Gold Cup opponents are not the sturdiest of adversaries