After a commanding Gold Cup in the books for the US Men’s National Team (USMNT as I so endearingly and aptly call them), Klinsmann and Co. will look ahead to next summer’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Although we saw a mainly ‘B team’ during the Gold Cup, there were flashes of brilliance, intrigue towards the USMNT future, but also confirmation that there are some players who are best suited for tournaments such as the Gold Cup rather than a World Cup.
Here are a few points I noticed…
1. The US absolutely loves set pieces. That’s our bread and butter. See? (And yes, since MLSsoccer.com counts throw-ins as set pieces, I am too.) All 28 of the US throw-ins were successful in the Belize vs. USA match. But, as Eddie Johnson and Brek Shea found out, it looks like one of our newest tricks of the trade is found on my second point.
2. The US is starting to appreciate – and hone as an asset – the quick substitution (quite possibly on certain set pieces) with fast results. As I said in my number one point, Eddie Johnson and Brek Shea lived this out to fruition in the quarterfinal with El Salvador and the final against Panama, respectively. Brek Shea was subbed in and 42 seconds later scored. Eddie Johnson’s goal came 14 seconds after his appearance on the pitch.
Eddie Johnson’s goal vs. El Salvador:
Brek Shea’s goal vs. Panama:
I must admit, though they may have been very intuitive substitutions and as it were, they happened later in both games where we needed goals, Klinsmann and Co. should be pleased with how well the team gels once on the field together, even with substitutions.
3. If Tim Howard and Brad Guzan become displaced and can no longer play goalkeeper, we – meaning the US – have a more-than-able ‘back-up’ in Nick Rimando. Plus, he comes with his own dance floor-esque spin move. Hot shot.
4. Brek Shea has frequently been ragged on for his recent form – or lack thereof – and it is with some truth that Shea has not been at his best. During the Cuba group stage game, he was booed – by American fans – for his performance, but then came some redemption when Klinsmann placed him on the field as a substitute during the Costa Rica game. Because Shea’s first half stint was disappointing, to say the least, against Cuba, Klinsi’s second half substitution during the Costa Rica match seemed to go against any wisdom that any US soccer fan (albeit those who are Brek Shea fans need not apply here) would give to the German. So then, when the spitfire Texan came on the field, it was surprising to experience what happened next. With a terrific save on the US end, goalkeeper Sean Johnson chucked the ball up to the top of the US’s defensive third, followed by a few passes around the midfield area, and then there was Joe Corona’s lovely pass to Donovan. With Shea sprinting up field this whole time – end-to-end stuff here – Donovan laid off a great volley to the middle of the pitch. Tap it, hit it, and there you have it. Brek Shea’s first international goal.
Yes, Shea still needs much work, and hopefully, if he has solid showings – with a good amount of minutes – at Stoke City, he’ll climb the depth chart ladder for the USMNT, that is already highly stacked in the midfield department (see number 5).
5. The depth chart for the USMNT is getting, well, deep. There are a multitude of ways for Klinsmann to pencil in his starting XI, which might be harder now that these 2013 Gold Cup veterans have received more playing time with each other and have quite possibly gotten more nods to a call up to the ‘A team.’ As soccer pundit Leander Schaerlaeckens pointed out in his tweet after the Gold Cup with his 2014 US World Cup roster, I give you my own for you to critique and criticize – because let’s put my soccer analysis to the test.
GK – Howard…Guzan…Rimando (Yes, I agree with Mr. Schaerlaeckens on the keeper situation. On a side note, how cool is it that Kasey Keller was brought in as a goalkeeper coach for the Gold Cup?)
LB – Fabian Johnson…DaMarcus Beasley
CB – Matt Besler…Michael Orozco Fiscal
CB – Steve Cherundolo* (if healthy) OR Clarence Goodson (if Dolo is not healthy)…Omar Gonzalez
RB – Timmy Chandler…Michael Parkhurst
DCM – Jermaine Jones…Geoff Cameron
ACM – Michael Bradley…Stuart Holden**
LW – Landon Donovan …Joe Corona
RW – Graham Zusi…Brad Evans
F – Clint Dempsey…Herculez Gomez
S – Jozy Altidore…Eddie Johnson
6. The Gold Cup team out produced (i.e. scored more goals) their opponents, 20-4, and by my non-scientific calculations (looking at the match stats), you can see that although we may have gotten more goals, the goals that we conceded always happened around half. (USAvBLZ – 6-1/40th min; USAvCUB – 4-1/36th min; USAvSLV – 5-1/39th min; USAvHND – 3-1/52nd min). That may be something that Klinsmann will look into as a thorn in the USMNT’s side. In the past, the US has been notorious for conceding goals near the beginning of the game. Now that the US hasn’t given up any early goals recently, hopefully this new trend (of conceding goals between the 40-55 minute marks) is not habitual.
7. We need finishers. Strikers. People who know how to score. Yes, we have great forwards; and yes, Dempsey is amazing at being a nuisance and scored lots at Fulham and has somewhat translated his Craven Cottage success to Tottenham; and yes, Altidore was slumping and now he’s on a tear; and yes, Eddie Johnson has – recently – had some stellar goals. However, the US does not, in my opinion, have an out and out striker. You can say Wondolowski is one, and I would agree with you, but besides his showing at the Gold Cup as well as this year’s friendly against Guatemala in San Diego, he hadn’t produced a goal in his first 12 appearances on the team. I do, however, congratulate Wondo on those goals because they solidified his place on the Gold Cup roster. The problem, though, with an out and out striker like Wondolowski is for the US: they can be displaced so easily in international games, like what we saw happen to Altidore this past year. They can roam and play the offside trap as much as they want, but if they aren’t getting the service to the attacking third – or at the very least, helping out with providing in the attack – they won’t get any goals, or even shots on goals. (I probably just opened up a can of worms on this number, but I don’t want to lay out all of my points and counterpoints at the moment. My apologies.)
On the up side of this point: we do have forwards who are in form now – like Altidore, Dempsey, and Donovan.
And when they’re on, they’re on (and I know the Germany game was ‘just a friendly’ but hey, at least they scored four times):
8. Besler is solid. That’s it. Nothing to really expand or expound upon but that. Granted, we already knew he was good when the USMNT went to Azteca during World Cup qualifying and came away with a draw. Jason Davis and Jared DuBois recently gave Besler quite the accolades on their Gold Cup Final Post-Game Show with DuBois likening Besler to the next Eddie Pope.
“I think Matt Besler is our current generation’s Eddie Pope. The guy who is always behind the guy. He was never going to be the stand out player but he was one of the most consistent guys you’ve ever seen put on a US shirt. And probably one of the most respected ones as well.” Not bad.
9. Klinsmann has some style. No need to refute or come up with a rebuttal. Jurgen looks fly where he be.
10. Wherever the USMNT play in the US, there will be a large crowd supporting them.
*I like Steve Cherundolo as not only a player, but he seems like a great person. So although I don’t believe he will be 100% World Cup quality match fit by next summer, I’m leaving him on the lineup.
**As of July 29th in the afternoon, Bolton Wanderers and the USSF announced Holden’s knee injury on the pitch of the Gold Cup Final against Panama is a torn ACL. With that news, I’m still keeping him on my depth chart as a replacement at attacking center mid – and staying optimistic at the same time – but my opinion will have to change as Holden, probably, goes through surgery yet again.