By Ridge Mahoney
Yes to Landon Donovan and no to Carlos Bocanegra drew the most attention Thursday upon release of the initial Gold Cup roster of 23 U.S. players.
According to Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the exclusion of Bocanegra from the group phase is rooted in his attempt to leave Glasgow Rangers, perhaps to MLS, in the near future. Bocanegra spent last season in Spain with Racing Santander, which was relegated from the Second Division.
In this ranking of the goalkeepers and four back-line positions, Klinsmann’s use of players since he took over nearly two years ago and his Gold Cup selections are taken into account. Players seeing significant time at different positions are rated in each category. The leading candidates, based on their club performances, in addition to those players are also included. (Possible callups from the U-20s will be evaluated at a later date.)
The first-choice centerback pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Beslerwere excluded from the initial Gold Cup roster, though they could be recalled assuming the USA advances into the knockout rounds.
Players marked with an asterisk (*) have been named to the 23-man roster the USA will utilize for the first round of the Gold Cup, after which as many as four players can be replaced by someone named on the preliminary list of 35 submitted to Concacaf.
1. Tim Howard (Everton/ENG)
2. Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/ENG)
3. Nick Rimando* (Real Salt Lake)
4. Sean Johnson* (Chicago Fire)
5. Bill Hamid*(D.C. United)
Guzan’s solid season in the Premier League has tightened the gap between him and Howard, but the top slot won’t be an issue unless occasional errors such as Howard’s failure to deal with a cross against Jamaica that resulted in a goal recur often. In recent U.S. games, Howard has been under less pressure, but as he showed by bailing out Matt Besler when a flub gave Honduran Andy Najar a great chance, he’s quite capable of the big save.
Rimando is the clear No. 3, and as proven as a keeper can be without moving outside MLS. At 34, he’s still quick and agile, and his considerable experience in Concacaf Champions League play for RSL aids his value in the Gold Cup. Tally Hall has been cut from the initial Gold Cup squad but could come back into the team if Rimando rejoins RSL. The growth of Johnson and Hamid will depend on their club form, since there won’t be many opportunities to play for the U.S. until next year.
1. Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96/GER)
2. Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders)
3. Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG)
4. Tim Chandler (Nuremberg/GER)
5. Tony Beltran* (Real Salt Lake)
He’s not played for the USA this year, and underwent arthroscopic surgery this week, so Cherundolo -- despite his 300 top-flight appearances for Hannover and 87 caps -- has work to do between now and Brazil 2014. Knee problems limited him to just five (of 17) matches in the second half of the Bundesliga season, and he wasn’t called for the June World Cup qualifiers or Gold Cup, so the 34-year-old’s status for the September qualifiers is very much up in the air.
Evans blossomed in June and though rather ponderous to play outside back at this level did a creditable job. He’s a battler with good instincts, and his stoppage-time goal in Kingston showed remarkable poise.
Cameron played both centerback slots last year as well as the central midfield role he filled against Jamaica and Panama in relief of Jermaine Jones. He helped the USA shut out Costa Rica and Mexico at right back, then labored against Belgium. Toggling between positions isn’t the best condition for him, but if he keeps his place in the starting lineup at Stoke under new manager Mark Hughes, his progress should continue.
Chandler’s struggles against Honduras in February were a disappointment after a few good showings in friendlies. He’s got some of Fabian Johnson’s qualities but is rawer and less experienced. He’s probably the best alternative if Cherundolo can’t recover but Chandler needs better showings in competitive matches to move up the ladder.
Tony Beltran is one of the most skilled outside backs to come out of an American college (in this case, UCLA) recently and obviously has a lot to prove if he starts in the Gold Cup. Klinsmann likes defenders with good feet and Beltran certainly qualifies in that area.
1. Omar Gonzalez(Los Angeles Galaxy)
2. Clarence Goodson* (San Jose Earthquakes)
3. Oguchi Onyewu* (Sporting Lisbon/Portugal)
4. Michael Orozco-Fiscal* (Puebla/MEX)
5. Austin Berry (Chicago Fire)
Growing pains have afflicted Gonzalez since a rough outing in February against Honduras, and that worrisome habit of switching off has cropped up a few too many times. There’s a beehive of activity for centerbacks to track and young players like Gonzalez need time and experience to learn all of the nuances. His progress would accelerate if he leaves MLS and plays regularly, but to be stuck on the bench leading up to the World Cup could be a disaster for him and the USA.
Goodson is a capable but limited defender who started regularly for Brondby, for which he played 63 games before returning to MLS this week. The former Dallas defender is a solid tackler and tough in the air, yet at the international level is prone to poor decisions and suspect positioning. Onyewu has not fully regained his form since suffering a ruptured patellar tendon in the last Hexagonal match of 2009 against Costa Rica. At 31, he’s running out of time.
Orozco-Fiscal saw some time when Klinsmann first took over. Playing in the Gold Cup would be his first USA action of 2013. Berry is building on his 2012 Rookie of the Year season and being paired with Bakary Soumare has restored his confidence.
1. Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
2. Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG)
3. Clarence Goodson* (San Jose Earthquakes)
4. Carlos Bocanegra (Glasgow Rangers/SCO)
5. Maurice Edu (Stoke City/ENG)
Not many current players have much experience in this slot, though several of them have played on both sides, and so Besler’s rapid rise since his debut in January is as essential as it is remarkable. His reads and reactions are usually assured and while he may not be terrifically strong or breathtakingly fast, he’s so far shown enough athleticism to handle the job. He can also deliver accurate balls at varying distances.
The Last Chance Saloon beckons for Bocanegra. He emerged as a bonafide national-team regular at the 2003 Gold Cup, and this year’s edition could have provided his best shot at keeping a spot in the squad. But he’s been excluded from the group phase at least, and until his club situation is stabilized he’s teetering on the precipice.
Edu’s status is clouded by questions. He’s played midfield for Klinsmann but was at centerback when the USA beat Mexico, 1-0, last August. After appearing in 12 games on loan to Turkish club Bursaspor last season, he too has a new manager to impress at Stoke.
1. DaMarcus Beasley* (Puebla/MEX)
2. Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/GER)
3. Tim Chandler (Nuremberg/GER)
4. Edgar Castillo*(Tijuana/MEX)
5. Michael Parkhurst* (Augsburg/GER)
Beasley still has problems with taking up good positions to guard against players slipping behind him, and his one-v-one defending is decent but not stellar. Yet his speed and strong left foot are obvious assets. Johnson’s defensive instincts are much sharper and by setting up a pair of goals for Jozy Altidore recently his attacking contributions are apparent as well.
Klinsmann’s first games in charge were highlighted by several strong showings at left back by Chandler, who is recovering from a torn knee ligament suffered in May. Beasley’s emergence has lessened the effect of Chandler’s absences yet Klinsmann will be closely monitoring him when Bundesliga play resumes in August.
Castillo’s defensive liabilities have been exploited by several U.S. foes but he’s in the Gold Cup squad along with Houston’s Corey Ashe, a converted midfielder and rugged tackler who has gained some experience against Concacaf opposition at the club level. Ironically, Castillo’s greatest value to the USA is probably at left mid.
Parkhurst started in a qualifier against Guatemala last October and like a few of his teammates could be deployed on either side, but he didn’t see regular time for Augsburg last season. He also played the first two U.S. matches of 2012 at centerback paired with Cameron.