BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, July 9, 2013
The U.S team is set to open its 2013 Gold Cup campaign and under the new format, the winner will have the opportunity to play the winner of the 2015 tournament for a Confederations Cup spot.
So there is plenty at stake for the U.S team at the Gold Cup. Yes, most of the key players are part of the current World Cup qualifying campaign aren't here but it is still an interesting roster full of some new faces and old faces who haven't been with the team in a long time.
Jurgen Klinsmann's roster will likely change after the group stages when teams will be allowed to add four players to the roster for the knockout rounds. At that point, players like Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, and Omar Gonzalez can all likely be added since there was an agreement with MLS teams that players in June World Cup qualifying would not play in the group stages of the Gold Cup.
Before that happens, here are the key storylines for the team in the group stages.
When the Gold Cup roster was announced last week, one of the more surprising elements was that it didn't include many new faces. In MLS, defenders such as George John and Matt Hedges have been playing well but were passed over for veterans Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu.
What makes the decision puzzling is that central defense has been a major area of concern for Klinsmann and one would have figured this would have been the opportunity to look at new players. Onyewu and Goodson still have the talent to get the job done at the Gold Cup group stages and the pair will be a handful to defend on set pieces.
If either falters, however, it doesn't bode well for their chances for any future camps. It's likely that Klinsmann will supplement the roster with Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler after the group stages so this could be the last stand for both Goodson and Onyewu.
All eyes on Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan's first step in his return to the national team went well against Guatemala with a pair of goals. The burden is still on him and he will need to contribute each and every single game at the Gold Cup to get back into Klinsmann's plans for World Cup qualifying.
It's tough to determine what position is best for Donovan right now. He can play wide or centrally as a withdrawn forward or central attacking midfielder. Against Guatemala he played better centrally in the second half.
A healthy and motivated Donovan is an enormous boost to the U.S team moving forward. In his history he has almost single handily taken the U.S team to another level and is on the verge of become the first player ever on record with 150 caps/50+ assists/ 50+ goals. He still has the ability but where does he fit into Klinsmann's system where he will have to compete with Graham Zusi on the right and Clint Dempsey centrally for minutes? Klinsmann is hoping this Gold Cup will answer these questions.
Stuart Holden return
Stuart Holden first run of extended minutes for the national team against Guatemala was terrific as he completely transformed the game in a five goal second half outburst. His performance was a reminder of how could he was before his injury.
But just as Landon Donovan is still a work in progress after Guatemala, Stuart Holden remains the same. The cold reality is that Guatemala was very poor and it was just one game. The Gold Cup will reveal more about where he is on the long road to recovery from micro-fracture surgery and then his start to the season with Bolton will be another important step.
Performing game after game, week after week for both club and country will be the ultimate indicator. The nature of Holden's game will be a test. He is very quick and excels on both sides of the ball. When he's at 100%, his work-rate is impressive. The game against Guatemala was very impressive but it was just one step in a long road.
Cap tying Diskerud
Whenever Mix Diskerud steps onto the field for the U.S team at the Gold Cup (likely against Belize) he will be formally cap-tied to the U.S national team. This has been a long time coming ever since he joined the US U-20 World Cup team in 2009 ahead of the World Cup.
The game against Guatemala showed that Diskerud has a lot of quality and he is already a very important player for Rosenborg. So getting him locked to the U.S team is welcome news - especially considering that Norway was inquiring about him as recently as the spring.
It will be tough for Diskerud to make the World Cup team but it is also not impossible. The central midfielders he has to compete with are Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, Danny Williams, Jose Torres, and Kyle Beckerman. The Gold Cup will go a long way to determining whether or not Diskerud can get important callups to World Cup qualifiers later this year.
The playmaking role
It is becoming more and more evident with each passing game that Klinsmann has settled on the 4-2-3-1 formation for the U.S team. In the Gold Cup, a real test will be who becomes the main playmaker as the center of the "3" line.
There are several options and Landon Donovan thrived against Guatemala when moved off the wing and into the middle of the field. Donovan, however, is just one of many different options.
Joe Corona has been involved with the U.S national team for most of the World Cup qualifying campaign but has not earned many minutes. The Gold Cup is a chance for him to have an extended opportunity to show what he can do. The problem is that while he was a regular with a strong Tijuana team, he was never the engine of the team's attack. It is a question whether or not he can fill that role for the U.S team.
Alejandro Bedoya is another option play that position and one that would allow him to play the role which he plays with Helsingborg. In 2013, Bedoya has emerged as one of the best players in the Allsvenskan having both the ability to score and create opportunities for others. He now looks poised to move to Holland with FC Twente. Klinsmann played Bedoya wide on the right in the second half against Guatemala but it would not be a surprise to see him shift into the middle of the field at some point during the Gold Cup.
Shea and Stoke
When Josh Gatt was forced to withdraw from the team due to a knee injury, Klinsmann elected to replace him with Brek Shea. There is no question that Shea can help the U.S team at the Gold Cup but it is far from clear whether or not this is the best move for his career.
This preseason at Stoke is one of the most important times of his career. Shea has not played regularly since his foot surgery in November and because of his injury he was never able to fully break into Stoke after joining the club in January.
Stoke have made a lot of changes during the offseason and the most significant is obviously hiring new manager Mark Hughes to replace Tony Pulis. After injuries limited him last year, Shea will now miss out on the start of preseason with Stoke to play in the Gold Cup. Time will tell if this was the right move but the question of whether or not he should be in England trying to earn minutes with Stoke will linger. After all, if Shea is playing regularly in the Premier League, the national team door will always be open to him.