[USA-BELIZE]The USA starts its quest to unseat Mexico as Gold Cup champion Tuesday in Portland against Belize with a few long-time veterans sprinkled in amongst a roster of World Cup hopefuls.
During a media conference call that followed the official release of his roster for the Gold Cup, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann took a break from explaining his player decisions to assess the competition quite succinctly.
He simply said: “The Gold Cup is a different animal.”
Those seven words take on myriad meanings. Traipsing around a vast country -- if they reach the final, the American will play in six of the 13 venues to be utilized during the next three weeks -- is unique to a regional championship always staged by the same host. So is playing said tournament in the midst of World Cup qualifying; with six of 10 Hexagonal rounds played, the USA tops the six-team group of which only Jamaica failed to qualify for the Gold Cup. Yet Caribbean rival Martinique is not only one of 12 participants, it has already delivered an early shock result.
Thus, this Gold Cup is already looking different not only in its composition but its competition. On the tournament’s opening day, fans at the Rose Bowl sat through a Shock Sunday doubleheader: Martinique 1, Canada 0, followed by Panama 2, Mexico 1.
No such result is expected Tuesday when the USA takes on Belize at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Ore. (11 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel), and by its 6-0 hammering of Guatemala – which finished behind Belize in the Gold Cup qualifiers, it should be noted – in its tune-up match Friday in San Diego, the Americans should be primed for a quick start.
Still, they and Klinsmann know the race usually goes to the strongest finisher.
“This group hasn't trained together much, so we need to adjust to each other and build chemistry,” Klinsmann said. “It's not so fluid right now, and the guys know that. We'll keep working and keep training with the goal of peaking towards the end of the tournament.”
The six-goal eruption, which included two tallies by Landon Donovan in his first national team appearance since last August, rightly attracted the greatest notice from fans and the press. Yet Klinsmann also praised the defensive work that posted a zero. The only player started any of the two friendlies and three Hexagonal games prior to the Gold Cup, left back DaMarcus Beasley captained the team against Guatemala and will wear the armband this month as well.
“He always has a smile and brings a lot of positive energy,” Klinsmann said of the selection. “His leadership and experience will be very valuable in this tournament, and he can help connect some of the younger players to what we have been building.”
Shutting out a weak squad in a home friendly isn’t a staggering accomplishment. It was, however, the sixth shutout posted by the USA this year in just nine games played, and the No. 1 man in the nets for this tournament, Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake, wants to extend that trend in the Gold Cup. The back line of Beasley, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu and Michael Parkhurst gave him much reason for optimism.
“The defense was good,” said Rimando, who acknowledged a few glitches against Guatemala that require attention. “Whenever you post a zero it’s a good sign. We’ve got to clean up some stuff, you’ve got to learn quick to play with each other and get to know each other’s tendencies.
“Beas captained us and got up the line, Brek [Shea] came in and did well on that left side. Clarence and Gooch and Parkhurst were all strong in the air. When you have big guys back there, teams aren’t going to get too many chances.”
Goodson also scored by neatly placing the rebound of his own shot into the roof of the net. Goodson, Onyewu and Shea, who was named to replace Joshua Gatt on the 23-man first-round roster, will add to the USA’s aerial presence on set plays, which traditionally has been one of the team’s attributes in this competition.
So will there be Gold Cup redemption for Donovan, who is only just now scraping off the rust of his long sabbatical, and Onyewu, struggling to regain his best form since suffering a ruptured patellar tendon in a Hexagonal match three and a half years ago?
Can World Cup “bubble” candidates such as Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona and Jose Torres move up the ladder?
Winning the competition is the USA's primary objective; along with regional supremacy, the Gold Cup winner receives a playoff ticket for the 2017 Confederations Cup. If another country wins the 2015 Gold Cup, there will be a playoff. A sweep of both Gold Cups by the same nation books a Confederations Cup spot directly.
Donovan is saying all the right things about coming back into the team and well knows its importance; as young players, he and Beasley raised their stock considerably in the 2002 Gold Cup. Four months later at the World Cup, they were starters.
So each player is keenly aware of the other competition running concurrently, that of strengthening his place in the pool from which only 23 can get on the plane for Brazil. Part of that formula is contributing to team success, which stems from individual performances.
“The race is on,” said Klinsmann after naming his squad for the Gold Cup. “The Gold Cup is a huge opportunity for all the players to make a very, very strong statement. This is the moment now to shine. This is the moment to step it up."
Goalkeepers:Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire).
Defenders:Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla, MEX), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana, MEX), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Oguchi Onyewu (Malaga, SPA), Michael Orozco (Puebla, MEX), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg, GER).
Midfielders:Alejandro Bedoya (Helsingborgs, SWE), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana, MEX), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg, NOR), Brek Shea (Stoke City, ENG), Stuart Holden (Bolton, ENG), Jose Torres (Tigres, MEX).
Forwards:Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Club Tijuana, MEX), John McInerney (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).
Goalkeepers:Frank Lopez (Belize Defense Force), Shane Orio (Marathon, HON), Woodrow West (Belmopan Bandits).
Defenders: Dalton Eiley (Placencia Assassins), Ian Gaynair (Belmopan Bandits), Tyrone Pandy (Belize Defense Force), Elroy Smith (Savio, HON), Harrison Tasher (Belize Defense Force), Ashley Torres (Placencia Assassins), Evral Trapp (Verdes FC), Khalil Velasquez (Belize Defense Force).
Midfielders:Elroy Kuylen (Unattached), Trevor Lennen (Police United), Andres Makin Jr. (Police United), Devon Makin (Police United), Luis Torres (Placencia Assassins), David Trapp (Belmopan Bandits).
Forwards:Lennox Castillo (Police United), Daniel Jimenez (Police United), Evan Mariano (Police United), Deon McCaulay (Belmopan Bandits), Harrison Roches (Belize Defense Force), Michael Salazar (UC Riverside).