As the United States men's soccer team sailed through the CONCACAF tournament, much was revealed about the players, the coach, and the current status of American soccer. Here's our take.
July 27, 2013
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10. Kyle Beckerman has an extra gear
Though beloved in Utah, the Real Salt Lake captain takes a lot of grief in American soccer circles because 1) of that peacock hairdo and 2) he always seems a step slow when competing at the international level. Every time Beckerman takes too long on the ball and has his pocket picked, you can practically hear the bags of Fritos crashing against flatscreen TVs from San Ysidro, Calif., to Kennebunkport, Maine. Even in this tournament, Beckerman seemed a step too slow at times, allowing lesser midfielders from weaker teams to dispossess him.
But then something happened: Beckerman revved his engines a bit harder, moved the ball a little faster, and delivered his two best outings as a Yank against El Salvador and Honduras. He did more than destroy. He showed, perhaps for the first time, that he can be a two-way player against international competition. Keep that tachometer in the red, Mr. Beckerman, and you will start to win over U.S. fans from coast to coast.
9. Eddie Johnson has that look again
OK, maybe not the look in the photo above, but the Florida native once again has the look of a natural born goalscorer. Johnson showed us a glimpse of this killer instinct early in his United States career, but a disastrous detour to the United Kingdom undermined his game and destroyed his confidence. Returning to Major League Soccer in 2012 helped Johnson relocate his game, and since joining the Gold Cup squad mid-tournament he has looked absolutely lethal.
The comeback story that began last year in Seattle has come full circle with the national team. It's great to see.
8. The Backline Remains Unsettled
I'll go out on a limb here for a second: Matt Besler will start in central defense when the United States places its first match in the 2014 World Cup. After that? No clue.
Thanks to a strong showing in the Gold Cup, Clarence Goodson has staked a claim for the spot next to Besler in central defense. Omar Gonzalez joined the team in time to play in the semifinal in Arlington, Texas, but Jurgen Klinsmann stuck with Goodson for that contest_and Goodson delivered. Who will play in Sunday's final? Who knows? And could former U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra get back into the race for a starting spot? Yes he could.
It's even more confusing out on the edges. With four starts in five Gold Cup matches, Michael Parkhurst has distanced himself from Tony Beltran in the race at right back, but has he done enough to challenge the inconsistent Timothy Chandler or the (sorry) 36-year-old Steve Cherundolo or the pretty-much-position-less Geoff Cameron? Hard to say. At the other fullback position, DaMarcus Beasley has shown that he can hold his own against CONCACAF competition, but is he good enough back there to allow Klinsmann to send Fabian Johnson up to left wing when the teams get tougher?
So many questions. Klinsmann has 11 months to figure it all out.
7. Donovan Was a Model Prisoner
Landon Donovan is the Lionel Messi of the 2013 Gold Cup—he's playing several levels above everyone else in the tournament. How that translates to a higher level of competition remains to be seen, but I would be shocked if Donovan doesn't join the A Team in Sarajevo on August 14, and then reclaim his spot for the four remaining Hexagonal matches.
If these three weeks in July are Donovan's punishment for taking a holiday in Cambodia and skipping out on a few World Cup qualifiers, we'd like to state for the record that he has served his sentence, he was a model prisoner, and we wish nothing but the best once he's back on the outside.
6. Jack Mac Is at the Back of the Pack
The Philadelphia Union striker made enough of an impression to get called into the squad, but Klinsmann did not see fit to give Jack Mac his first cap. Seems like a missed opportunity, but Klinsmann has certainly earned the right to make this call.
“I think for a player like Jack, right now it’s a tremendous learning curve,” Klinsmann said. “You train every day with these guys and you see, ‘OK this is my club level and this is the national team’. He’s coming along, we’re happy with him, we see him, we see his talent and he’s getting more confident every time he’s getting on the practice field."
“In the Gold Cup, it’s a bit tricky because we can only sub three guys. It would have been easier maybe (with) two or three preparations games, then you throw him in there to get a couple of minutes in, it’s no problem. But now with the rules, only having three, you want to make sure that you make the right ones based on what you see really in training as well. But he’s on a good path.”
5. Edgar Castillo Doesn't Defend Well
That's what he told American Soccer Now contributing editor Jon Arnold, anyway. See for yourself
4. But Joe Corona and Stuart Holden Do
Better known for their offensive prowess, Corona and Holden both delivered on the defensive side of the ball during the Gold Cup. The effort and the willingness to go in for hard tackles will make it easier for Klinsmann to select both players next June.
3. Soccer is blowing up in America
Seventy thousand in attendance in Baltimore. Eighty-one thousand in Arlington, Texas. A huge crowd expected for Sunday's Gold Cup Final at Soldier Field in Chicago. A 1.2 rating on FOX for the United States-El Salvador quarterfinal match, which is a higher rating than the Champions League Final earned a few months back. Whether the fans are rooting for or against the United States, the audience is huge, and growing. So great to see.
2. This is Klinsmann's Team Now
The upbeat German may not get to watch from the sidelines Sunday—he was suspended for inappropriate behavior in the Gold Cup semifinal on Wednesday—but rest assured that Klinsmann's fingerprints will be all over the team that marches out to face Panama Sunday afternoon. The high-pressure defending. The quality possession out of the back. The swagger. The desire to impose its will on opponents. That's all Klinsmann.
It wasn't always like this, of course. Klinsmann faced, and accepted, all sorts of criticism during the early stages of his tenure as United States national team coach. Pundits (and some anonymous players) questioned Klinsmann's tactics and personnel decisions, and gave him hell when the results fell short of the coach's lofty ambitions.
Which is fair, it has to be said.
And now that the Yanks are riding a 10-game winning streak and bursting with confidence, Klinsmann deserves all the credit in the world.
1. The U.S. Rules CONCACAF
You think Panama has a chance on Sunday night? I don't. Honduras, with its resolute defending and the physicality to back it up, posed a bigger threat to the Americans—and you saw what happened in that contest. The United States is first in the Hex and far and away the best team in the Gold Cup. There is healthy competition at every position. The players are fighting for each other and their coach.
It's a very good time to be an American soccer fan.
John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.