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The 2013 Gold Cup Team: It's a Big Fat U.S. Love Fest

Players on the Gold Cup squad need to outperform their teammates if they hope to make the 2014 World Cup. And yet the spirit within the team is generous, kind, and even a little doting. It's kind of weird.
BY John Godfrey Posted
July 17, 2013
3:49 AM
EAST HARTFORD, Conn—Landon Donovan didn’t want to talk about the pass.

It was a perfect pass, mind you, a wonderfully weighted cross that Donovan delivered while sprinting down the right wing late in Tuesday’s then-scoreless match against Costa Rica.

It was a game-winning piece of skill, a brilliant assist, perhaps even the best play of the tournament.

But Donovan wanted to talk about Brek Shea.

“I looked up,” Donovan said. “I saw Brek running. It’s hard to miss that hair streaking down the other side of the field. I just wanted to put it in a good spot for him so he had time to take a touch.”

Donovan did. And Shea did too. And then the lanky blond Texan slotted the ball past Costa Rica goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton for the game-winning goal. As one might expect, a mob scene ensued. And Donovan was very happy to talk about that, too.

“After the other day he felt bad about his performance,” Donovan said of Shea’s poor showing against Cuba on Saturday. “And you could tell, in the reaction by all of us, how happy we were for him.”

The U.S. men’s national team is a bit of a love-fest these days, with the coach praising the players (“Michael Orozco was there like a rock"); the players enthusiastically supporting their coach; and—most significantly—the players genuinely pulling for one another.

Part of that can be attributed to an eight-game winning streak, which always creates a sense of well being within a squad. But remember: this Gold Cup team is also the American B Team. Every last player is desperate to claw back onto the A Team—the squad heading for next summer’s World Cup. And the only way any of them can achieve that goal is by outperforming the guy standing next to him.

It’s a recipe for backbiting and mistrust and selfishness, but there’s none of that to be found anywhere on this team. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s almost lovey-dovey.

Late Tuesday I asked Mix Diskerud about Joe Corona’s breakout performance against Cuba on Saturday. What goes through Diskerud’s mind when he sees a great effort like that—especially from a fellow midfielder, a frenemy? Does he feel like he has to ratchet up his game to stay, well, in the mix?

Another midfielder, Jose Torres, was standing next to us, heard the question, and subtly leaned in to hear what Diskerud had to say.

“I’m just happy for him,” Diskerud said, a bit flabbergasted at the thought that he could feel otherwise. “He’s a good friend of mine, and when he plays good I want to learn from him. When I play good he probably learns from me as well. We try to back each other up.”

The earwigging Torres beamed when he heard Diskerud’s response. It was actually kind of cute. I thought Torres was going to give his teammate a hug.

“It’s a great atmosphere in the group now,” Diskerud added. “Coming into the locker room now everybody is happy and smiling and supporting each other. People have their lucky socks and their lucky boxers, and I think it’s all just working for everybody.”

It sure seemed that way in the post-match media scrums.

Stuart Holden is desperate to reclaim his spot on the U.S. national team, but he was quick to heap praise on everyone around him—including Diskerud and the other U.S. midfielders vying to catch Klinsmann’s eye.

“He’s good on the ball,” Holden said of Diskerud. “He finds good spaces. He’s a clever footballer. He’s still young. He’s still learning different sides of the game. As far as his progress and his potential, the sky is the limit for him.”

American goalkeeper Sean Johnson, a surprise starter who made a brilliant save late in the match to preserve the U.S. victory, had plenty to talk about. Not surprisingly, he was swarmed by reporters after the contest. And he dutifully answered all of the questions about his mindset, his positioning, and his approach to the game.

But his eyes truly lit up when discussing Shea’s goal: “I’m extremely happy for Brek,” Johnson said, his eyes widening with intensity and a smile forming on his face. “To come out there and get a goal was huge, especially for his confidence.”

Shea, for his part, deflected much of the praise he was receiving back to Donovan, the man who delivered the ball to him.

“I couldn’t ask for a better pass,” Shea said. “After that, it was all just muscle memory.”

OK, guys—we get it. You like each other. You really like each other.

And while it's not likely to last forever, it’s still kind of nice to see.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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