USA v Honduras: Players to watch
After another impressive win over El Salvador on Sunday, the United States faces off against a significantly stronger and more capable side in Honduras in the semifinals of the Gold Cup. Klinsmann has demonstrated a willingness to give certain players a proper look in this tournament (think Parkhurst and Diskerud), but expect slight tweaks to the starting lineup with both greater stakes and a higher quality opponent on Wednesday.
There are a number of changes that Klinsmann could make, but the inclusion (or lack thereof) of three players that missed the starting cut on Sunday will be most indicative of just how seriously he takes the competition in the semis and (hopefully) finals.
Gonzalez missed the quarterfinal to play with his club, despite being called back up after the allowed four roster changes before the knockout rounds of the Gold Cup. There has been no talk of resentment over his absence, and his starting spot in the center of the defense alongside Matt Besler is virtually guaranteed against Honduras.
The U.S. clearly managed with the Goodson and Besler pairing on Sunday, though it should be noted that the back four struggled at times when El Salvador pressed or countered, particularly in the beginning of the second half. Center backs that are familiar with each other and work together in unison can make all the difference on defense, and it would be hard to imagine a slip up like El Salvador’s penalty happening with a stronger core in the back.
Gonzalez has been the rock of the full team’s back line in qualifying, and the thought of Besler and Gonzalez against weaker competition is genuinely exciting. The two have grown to communicate well and move in tandem, and it is hard to imagine a lone talented opposing player creating problems for the U.S. in the same way El Salvador’s Rodolfo Zelaya did on Sunday.
At this point, Stuart Holden probably has the most to gain or lose of anyone on the U.S. Gold Cup roster. Curiously, he sat for the entirety of the quarterfinal after playing all but the very first 45 minutes of group play. He may have picked up a knock and Klinsmann simply did not need him, but it was surprising not to see him enter the game for a bit of a run late on Sunday.
Klinsmann has shown a preference for Diskerud in the center of the pitch, despite Beckerman’s reliability as a defender and a distributor. Diskerud strikes the ball well and has a high work rate, but he turns the ball over when too much is expected of him in attack. Holden solves any problems that Diskerud presents as an attacker, going forward aggressively while routinely dropping all the way into the defensive midfield to collect the ball from the back line. This frees up Diskerud to do...whatever Diskerud does that Klinsmann likes so much.
Holden should get the start against Honduras, helping the U.S. to be considerably more dynamic in attack. How he performs will likely determine the amount of playing time he will see in qualifying and Brazil in an already crowded pool of talented (and favored) midfielders.
It was refreshing to see Eddie Johnson playing in his natural forward position on Sunday. I was critical of his impact on the full team during recent qualifiers, but the blame is perhaps more on Klinsmann for playing him on the wing. Johnson’s activity will always be that of a true forward--walking and light jogging with spurts of activity--but against El Salvador he demonstrated just how devastating he can be as a change of pace substitution for the full U.S. squad.
Feelings about his hair aside, Johnson is unquestionably the best option at point forward as the perfect match for the style and skill set of Donovan. It was kind of everyone to entertain the thought of Wondolowski starting up top, but Johnson brings the pace and strength in the open field necessary in a game sure to be more evenly matched than the previous four.
With the questions surrounding Landon Donovan’s place in the full team’s starting XI answered (and then some), things should start falling into place leading up to Brazil next summer. A large part of that equation involved the United States’ lack of depth at the forward position. Wondolowski will almost certainly be on the full roster, but as Johnnson quickly showed with his goal and follow-up assist on Sunday, there simply is no substitute for raw speed and power.