[USA SPOTLIGHT] The struggles of Oguchi Onyewu have re-opened the doors of speculation as to possible challengers for the role of a tall, rugged U.S. centerback. The Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez is one of the candidates, but it's Clarence Goodson, formerly of the Dallas Burn and currently in Denmark with Broendby, who is on the Gold Cup roster.
Had he not been scratching for playing time at the University of Maryland as a forward, Goodson might never have found a pro club, much less a spot in the U.S. national team pool.
His duels with Abe Thompson, who would later be an MLS teammate with Dallas, prompted Coach Sasho Cirovski to try him at centerback in a scrimmage with D.C. United. Thus was born a central defender who is replicating his role of two years ago with a foundation of past experience.
“That was my first real, long span with the national team,” he said of playing all six games at the 2009 Gold Cup while a member of Norwegian club IK Start. “I was happy to be there, as I am now, of course, but now it’s a winning mentality and a commitment to getting the job done, whereas before I was going around just trying to establish myself.
“The last few years I’ve managed to find a place on the team, and now it’s just a matter of improving my game and getting into the [first] XI.”
He traveled to the World Cup last summer but didn’t play, then was recalled for last November’s friendly against South Africa. He sat out the first three friendlies of 2011 while recovering from a broken toe and came to the national team camp in Cary, N.C. a few days after Broendby finished its league season in third place. City rival FC Copenhagen occupied first place, to Goodson’s chagrin.
“Those games are really intense, they mean everything,” he says of derby days in the Danish capital. “The supporters spend the week in the streets, organizing gatherings, taking over bars and everything else. The day of the game they’re up at 7 a.m., hanging out and partying until it’s game time, and once the game’s over, on they go into the wee hours. Those are the best environments I’ve been in, like the U.S.-Mexico game: intense and passionate for the whole 90 minutes.”
After replacing Onyewu at halftime in the 4-0 rout by Spain, he went the full 90 as the Americans opened the 2011 tournament by beating Canada, 2-0, in Detroit. The central pairing of the 6-foot-4 Goodson and Tim Ream -- taller, stronger guy and quicker, smaller guy -- survived a few hiccups unscathed and for the most part played solidly and cohesively.
“It helps me out a ton,” said Ream of earning just his fifth cap. “Having Clarence next to me, and then Carlos [Bocanegra] on my left and even Stevie [Cherundolo] out right. They give me little pointers here and there and the communication is so good back there that you always know when you have cover and when a guys coming. They are still big parts of the team.”
Tougher challenges will follow later in this tournament and first of all, Coach Bob Bradley must decide if the pairing returns Saturday against Panama, which plays a freer, more fluid style.
“We feel that it’s a good combination,” said Bradley of Goodson and Ream. “They played together in the friendly in South Africa [in November], and as we’ve gone through training we feel the balance between the two is good. In the second half of Spain there were a lot of positives in terms of their play. For us that was one of the highlights of the night, because I think it was good game for both of them.”
Goodson started his pro career with Dallas in 2004, then was claimed by -- but never signed with -- San Jose in the 2008 Expansion Draft. In search of a club, he found a home in Kristiansand, home to IK Start and about 80,000 residents, nearly all of them fans of the club, in his estimation.
“Kristiansand is not a small town, there are much smaller towns,” he says of his first venture into European play. “It did take some time to get used to that aspect of it, coming from a massive city like Dallas. I was lucky enough to actually meet my wife [who is from Seattle] within a few months in Norway, so that made everything that much easier.
“The whole town cares about the team, cares about what you’re doing. Take a team, any MLS team, take Dallas. How many professional teams are there in Dallas? It’s such a small percentage of people who actually care about the soccer team.
“It’s not the Cowboys or the Dallas Stars or the Mavericks. There’s not one team that you really, really care about. There are some who care but for the most part soccer is way, way down the list. That’s a big factor in playing for a team like Start, where just about everybody cares.”
He signed with Broendby as a free agent in November and suffered a broken toe that kept him out of the lineup until March. Goodson scored two goals as Broendby finished strongly enough to qualify for the Europa League, but there are other priorities.
“Copenhagen is up there at the top,” he says. “Our biggest goal is to knock them off their perch and right now Europe is just a second thought.”
He likes just about everything else about his new home, where there’s plenty of American lifestyle if one wants it, yet all the appeal of a vibrant European city home to more than one million people
“I love the city,” says the native of Alexandria, Virginia. “It’s been really neat transition, as it would be to any large city in Scandinavia. It has a lot to offer and pretty much anything we could want in America we can find there.
“We certainly like to get out and try different cuisines and restaurants. There’s a really nice area there called Tivoli, which is a large park, with beautiful gardens. It’s pretty nice to walk there, lots of museums. We just try to see what the city has to offer and do different things.”
He’s aware that many U.S. players have used the Gold Cup as a springboard to play in the World Cup, and at age 29, the next one in 2014 is most likely his last chance. He refuses to look that far ahead, not with other competitions and a long run of qualifiers to be navigated. Turning around that 5-0 pasting by Mexico in the Gold Cup final two years ago is high on the list, too.
“You have a good point but we’re still three years away from the World Cup,” he says. “Whether you play brilliantly or awful in this Gold Cup, there’s three more years to turn it around or fall off. The process of qualification is a long one and some guys contribute along the way but don’t actually make it into the tournament.
“Certainly I’ll just keep improving and do the best I can to bring something special to the team.”