Jurgen Klinsmann has made the maximum four player changes available to him under the new Gold Cup rules at the end of Group play, while no other country made more than one.
The four players added to the squad for the knockout stages are center back pair Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler and attackers Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon. Gold Cup 2013 has ended for Oguchi Onyewu, Herculez Gomez, Corey Ashe and Jack McInerney.
It had been widely speculated that Klinsmann would turn to his presumptive first choice central defense team at this point and although Clarence Goodson and Michael Orozco played very well against Costa Rica, drawing praise after the match from their coach, that speculation proved correct. Besler will be in camp for Sunday’s quarterfinal tilt versus El Salvador in Baltimore, although Gonzalez won’t be available until the semi’s, should the U.S. do the expected and qualify.
Onyewu started just the opener against Belize, where he is reported to have picked up an ankle sprain. Gooch leaves the national team with his club situation still in limbo. The well traveled Onyewu remains on the books at Sporting Lisbon, although he spent last season on loan at Malaga, where he essentially never played. The powerful center back will need to make a wise career decision, one that nets serious playing time, if he is to have any chance at forcing his way into Klinsmann’s plans for Brazil 2014.
Herculez Gomez joined Tijuana in Mexico over the summer and heads to his new club to get acclimated. Gomez had a somewhat frustrating Gold Cup, taking a backseat to Chris Wondolowski and his goal scoring exploits. Gomez still figures to be ahead of Wondo on the depth chart, as Johnson and Gordon come in to stake their claims’.
McInerney and Ashe leave the team without having seen a minute of Gold Cup time. Both are young players just getting their feet wet in international soccer, but it would have been nice to see McInerney get even a brief run against a weaker team such as Belize.
Now, before we move on to the quarters, let’s take a look back at the Group stage, position by position, and see who helped themselves going forward, and who didn’t.
Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando, Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid
Rimando was the clear number one in this group coming in. The RSL man has been singled out in the past by Klinsmann as his third keeper, behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, and Rimando did nothing to lose that designation against Belize and Cuba. The U.S. did surrender a goal to each of the underdogs, although the keeper could not be faulted for either and his overall play was solid.
Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise when Sean Johnson started against Costa Rica, a match that Klinsmann had dubbed the real start of the Gold Cup for this team. After seeing little action for much of the match, the Chicago Fire number one came up huge late in East Hartford. It was Johnson’s brilliant save from a Carlos Johnson header, off of a Costa Rica corner kick, that led to Brek Shea’s winning goal.
Will Klinsmann go back to Rimando the rest of the way, or will Johnson get the nod? One thing seems certain is that Hamid is out of the loop for now, in the battle for the first spot at the Gold Cup, and the number three job in Brazil.
Right fullback: Michael Parkhurst, Tony Beltran
Parkhurst is the more experienced player and started two of the three games so far. Beltran was solid in his only start versus Cuba. Most commentators felt that neither showed much going forward, although I thought that Parkhurst made some good crosses and I expect to see the Augsburg man on Saturday.
Left fullback: DaMarcus Beasley, Edgar Castillo
The captain is far superior to Castillo defensively and still flashes the speed that earned him one of the great all time soccer nicknames, Run DMB. Beasley showed that speed more than once against Costa Rica, beating his man to the endline and getting in his cross. Beasley is beginning to look more like a full time fullback, rather than a fill in, as he gains experience in the position. He took a bad blow to the head against the Ticos on Tuesday night, but Beasley played on and appeared fine after the game, so hopefully there will be no ill effects.
Midfield: Kyle Beckerman, Stuart Holden, Mix Diskerud, Jose Torres, Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya, Brek Shea
Midfield is the one field position unaffected by the four changes, so they must be doing something right in Klinsmann’s eyes.
Shea is the only pure winger in the group, and he bounced back nicely from a personal horror show versus Cuba, to score the winner off the bench against the Ticos. Graham Zusi did not get a call-up, it may be that Klinsmann is happy with the SKC man and wants to see what this group can provide.
Corona, Shea, Torres and Bedoya can all play the wing and all have had their moments in this Cup. Corona’s pass to Donovan led to Shea’s goal and the Tijuana man will see more time going forward.
The central midfield battle has been intriguing and that should continue. Holden and Diskerud started versus Costa Rica. Torres has started both centrally and out wide in the Gold Cup, working as winger on Tuesday. Beckerman has been good so far, but got a DNP in Connecticut. Holden filled Beckerman’s d-mid role with Diskerud playing a bit more forward. Diskerud’s vision and passing make him a tempting option, either from the start or off the bench.
I could see Klinsmann going back to Beckerman and pairing him with Holden against El Salvador. Donovan is nominally a central midfielder in this setup, but in reality he has been operating as a withdrawn forward.
Forward: Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Will Bruin, Eddie Johnson, Alan Gordon
Donovan has described every game as an audition for him. If so, he appears to have passed. Donovan has played every minute of the first round and looks deserving of an “A” team re-call. Wondo scored a bunch of goals against the two minnows, but none versus Costa Rica. Will Bruin never left the bench and there’s a good chance that he won’t for the duration of the Gold Cup.
Johnson provides speed, goals and can play wide. Gordon brings toughness and his heading ability makes him a good late option off the bench when a goal is needed.
So who will we see on Sunday? How about this.
Johnson, Parkhurst, Goodson, Besler, Beasley, Beckerman, Holden, Corona, Torres, Donovan, Johnson.
Why? Just a hunch on Johnson. If he does get the call, a good game from the younger Johnson could propel him ahead of Rimando for the third slot.
If Besler starts, and why bring him in otherwise, the veteran Goodson could lead the defense. As a bit of a wildcard, Orozco plays mostly at fullback for his club, but Klinsmann probably won’t make that move at this point. Corona was excellent against Cuba and had that key pass on Shea’s goal. Torres isn’t really a wing, but he was good against Costa Rica. Shea and Bedoya are good options off the bench. Up top it is Donovan and whoever. I like Johnson’s speed paired with Donovan and Wondo’s best hope for a World Cup spot would be as a supersub, so why not have a look at him in that role now.