With the Confederations Cup now behind the USMNT, the Gold Cup is on the horizon. Sure, plenty of people have issues with the tournament. Many would like to see the region’s championship every 4 years rather than bianually. The continental powers take the tournament more seriously when a Confed Cup spot is up for grabs.
Nonetheless, it’s a perfect time for teams like El Salvador, smaller countries which don’t get play in big matches often. El Salvador can use this time to build their confidence, playing against a Costa Rican side, likely to play in their third consecutive World Cup. For teams like Canada and Jamaica who are already out of World Cup Qualifying, it’s a chance to bring home some soccer glory to their respective nations. For Guadeloupe, this is their World Cup. As they are not a FIFA nation, they cannot compete at the World’s soccer championship.
For the US, besides being a moneymaker, the tournament gives us valuable time to examine fringe elements of our player pool heading into South Africa. Not every country currently in World Cup Qualifying has this opportunity to test out the depth of their side in a meaningful competition.
Though the Condfederations Cup gave us a glimpse of who may be in our starting 11 come next summer, there are still a few holes and question marks … especially in regards to depth. So the question is, who deserves more of a look? Who might fit in with the bigger picture? Who will have a huge tournament, and garner playing time in the remaining qualifiers? Who might be a big suprise and steal a World Cup spot?
*** Some key players to watch :
- GK: Brad Guzan
Tim Howard is a lock as the starting keeper and Guzan appears to be entrenched as the backup … will we get to see him play? Will he show some consistency and perform well, following his gem of a match against Egypt?
- LB: Heath Pearce, Jonathan Bornstein
With the emergence of Jay DeMerit as a force at CB, Carlos Bocanegra has been pushed wide and done reasonably well. However, his performance was still inconsistent and this spot still seems open. Heath Pearce has shown flashes, yet has made critical errors at times. He should be starting at LB in the Gold Cup, and will need to have an excellent tournament in order to pass Bocanegra and Bornstein … who was also good at times, bad at others. One thing Bornstein does offer is his ability to get forward in the attack. Of course, Bocanegra also offers his set piece prowess. What can Pearce bring to the table?
- RB: Steve Cherundolo
Steve should be the starting RB for the USMNT today against Grenada. He also has a lot to prove. First off, he is coming off a nagging injury and he will need to show that he is not only healthy and fit, but also capable of playing in more solid form. Jonathan Spector’s play at this position was one of the stories’ of the Confed Cup for the US and Frankie Hejduk has been solid in qualifiers before getting injured. So it’s an up hill battle for ‘Dolo.
- CM: Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Ricardo Clark, Sacha Kljestan
This is probably the deepest position on the National Team. With Michael Bradley sure to be a starter, the other spot is still open. There are so many candidates here. Jermaine Jones isn’t eligible until August and Maurice Edu is recovering from injury. Ricardo Clark and Benny Feilhaber both played well at the Confed Cup, but it’s unclear how much playing time they’ll get, if any at all in the Gold Cup. They are 2 of the 7 addons granted by CONCACAF, so if they play it might be sparingly. Still, it would be nice to see them continue to solidify their spots.Though I don’t really want him to be at this time, Sacha Kljestan is clearly on Bob Bradley’s radar. While I hope he will eventually develop into a good player for our country, I just don’t think now is the time. Let’s hope to see some progress. The most important thing now for Kljestan is to regain some confidence. He’s looked lost on the pitch lately and is making too many bad passes. Stuart Holden played quite well for USA at the Olympics in Beijing. Though probably still a World Cup Cycle away from contributing, it will be interesting to see his development. Arnaud and Beckerman are longshots for South Africa.
- Wingers/Playmakers : Freddy Adu, Robbie Rogers, Colin Clark
Robbie Rogers was another player who had a good showing at the Olympics and is also a bit away from being in contention for South Africa. He is unquestionably talented, but has a tendency to impress and then fall off the radar. Colin Clark is another exciting, young player who is far on the fringe, but has good technique. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey appear to be our two playmakers, and will probably be 90 minute men at South Africa. Torres and Adu have also shown real promise in the little playing time they’ve received here. Freddy Adu might be able to garner more time as a sub, with a great Gold Cup performance. His versatility, being able to play in the midfield or as a forward should allow him to play a lot.
- Strikers: Davies, Altidore, Ching, Cooper, Quaranta
Definitely a posisition of extreme interest. Davies and Altidore are late additions, both of whom played well at the previous tournament. I really hope to see them together more, as I feel they could be our starters in South Africa. Brian Ching is perhaps Bradley’s perferred player at striker, yet he might end up being a backup. Kenny Cooper has struggled to get Bradley’s attention and will need a big tournament. I really hope he plays well and forces Bradley to play him more. He is big, solid presence, who is good both in the air and technically gifted on the ground. Santino Quaranta is on the outside looking in. I have a feeling he may be the suprise of the tournament though. He is versatile, brings a nice mix of skills (speed, strength, service) and most importantly hunger. Much like the USA played their best when given second life, Quaranta is in a similar spot. He has resurrected his career after battling with substance abuse. With the change in his personal life, has come change on the pitch. He is near the top of MLS in assists and works very hard. He appears to be relishing this chance, as he wasn’t sure he’d have the opportunity to play again for the National Team.
In the end, only a few of these fringe players will make the squad for South Africa … but is there a potential diamond in the rough to be found at the CONCACAF Gold Cup?