Opportunity to be Buzzword for USA at Gold Cup
By Alex Fairchild
The United States blasted Guatemala last Friday in preparation for what some would label a meaningless tournament. There is of course pride in victory, but even so, there is no definitive trip to the Confederations Cup on the line. To secure a spot in the World Cup rehearsal, a team must win the Gold Cup twice in the same cycle, or face a play-off against the team that won the tournament before or after them. For example, if the Confederations Cup were to take place next year and Mexico won this edition of the Gold Cup, they would be headed to the 8 team tournament, no questions asked. However, if the USA won this time around, the two would enter a play-off for their ticket to the lucrative event.
Nevertheless, $1 million is on the line for each country involved as well. For the United States the cash prize would go along well in what is a very important trial for those who have helped the national team for years, not to mention those who hope to down the road. The likes of Oguchi Onyewu and Landon Donovan will have one last chance to prove themselves on the international stage, though the latter will probably get a bit more preference, no matter what, and rightfully so.
Donovan is one of the greatest players the country has ever produced. His riveting display Friday saw him return from his national team sabbatical in dramatic fashion. Klinsmann has made a habit of using a few attacking midfielders. Over the team's dominating displays in June, it will be interesting to who it is that will be displaced. Dempsey is certainly a lock, while the Graham Zusi to Jozy Altidore combination is working quite well. That leaves Eddie Johnson as the odd man out, despite his contributions in the team's recent World Cup Qualifying spurt.
Meanwhile, Onyewu will return to action having been absent from the Stars and Stripes's XI since last year. The 31 year old, who was a mainstay in the US rearguard for a number of years, has struggled to keep his spot in the team, leaving the manager with the task of piecing together a new center back pairing. Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler have been the choice defenders this year and despite their inexperience, pulled off a memorable effort at the Azteca in the team's 0-0 struggle with the Mexicans. This Gold Cup will be a chance for Onyewu to show the Klinsmann that he has another year left in him. However, it could be risky to tinker with a defense that performed well against Germany and CONCACAF opposition. Perhaps the Sporting Lisbon man could head to Brazil as a backup. It has been proved many times that three solid central defenders are needed to make a run in tournaments like the World Cup - 'Guch' could be that extra man.
Gold Cup 2013 will also give Major League Soccer sensations Jack McInerney and Chris Wondolowski their shot. In addition, Stuart Holden could be handed the opportunity to reboot his career after injury.
McInerney has already scored 10 times for Union this term. That is twice more than his 8 goal tally last season. The kid got off to an electrifying start to Philadelphia Union's campaign, but has since cooled off. Klinsmann opted not to play the 20 year-old in the warmup match against Guatemala. In addition to restoring his confidence for Philadelphia, this Gold Cup may help him become one of the competitive attacking options Klinsmann has at his disposal. Herculez Gomez has already established himself on that list. McInerney will have to fight Terrance Boyd and Chris Wondolowski for a spot on the roster next year. If Klinsmann was playing out his striking depth chart in San Diego, the Philly forward sits at the back of the pack. McInerney will face tough competition through Boyd too, who some believe Klinsmann prefers due his cultural roots, even though Boyd is in fact a decent product. Wondolowski has done extraordinarily well in his past few years in MLS. However, the striker is 30 years-old. Even though he is an opsimath, who got his first international goal Friday, it will be interesting to see if the San Jose man can make the grade. The word on the street seems to be that even MLS's finest will not cut it for the national team. While Landon Donovan has been the exception to that logic, it is getting more difficult to subscribe to said theory as the likes of Gonzalez, Besler, and Zusi infiltrate an American squad that are on quite the run of form. Also, New England Revolution produced Clint Dempsey, before shipping him off to Fulham, where he came into his own, while New York Red Bulls played a role in Altidore's emergence as a young talent.
Former Houston Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden will look to get his career back on track at Gold Cup 2013. It was just a few years ago that the American was leading Bolton Wanderers to an unprecedented climb to the top half of the English Premier League. After incurring injury, Bolton slipped down the table, and over time found themselves playing Championship football. Holden will have quite the battle ahead, as the US team have moved on without him. Klinsmann seems set on pairing Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in front of the back four, with Dempsey, Zusi, and another playing just ahead of the holders. Holden may have to adapt, at least for the Red, White, and Blue, to coming on as a substitute, though that is not to say that he cannot force his way into the country's starting XI.
For the aforementioned footballers, this tournament is an "opportunity." Throughout my high school playing days, there were quite a few nights when my coach asked the team to look up the word quoted above in the dictionary. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, opportunity is "a time, condition, or set of circumstances permitting or favorable to a particular action or purpose." In other words, a chance to further oneself. While playing for little glory at present, a choice few will take their opportunity to put themselves in a position to represent their country in the future over the next few matches.