On Friday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team will take on Guatemala in their only warm-up game ahead of next week’s Gold Cup. The U.S. is coming off a high from the last round of World Cup qualifying matches, but this is a very different roster of players. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann needs to learn a lot about the crew he has in a very short amount of time.
Philly fans, of course, could tell him that he’s got a heck of a young striker on his hands in Union Jack. McInerney is not likely to start, with more experienced players like Herculez Gomez and Chris Wondolowski also on the roster. That said, he does things none of the other forwards do, and his movement will give even packed defenses problems, so don’t be surprised if McInerney works his way into the lineup sooner rather than later. Then, it’s up to him to do what he’s been doing all season long for the Union.
What a difference a year makes. From being out of the national-team picture to captaining his country in a major tournament, DaMarcus Beasley has risen from the ashes in dramatic style. His assertion of himself is the example players like Oguchi Onyewu, himself long out of the national team, need to follow. Edgar Castillo, Clay Goodson, and Michael Parkhurst all have work to do, as well, to stake some World Cup playing time.
There are two stories to follow in midfield: Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan. Donovan is listed as a forward, but will likely play on the outside of midfield. Holden, along with Mix Diskerud, will be tasked with providing creativity from the middle of the park. Both Holden and Donovan have a lot to prove, though for very different reasons. Donovan needs to work his way back into the coach’s good graces, while Holden needs to show he’s whole again after a nightmare series of injuries. At their best, they both have a lot to contribute to the senior squad at the World Cup. This is their chance to get back on the plane.
Guatemala: Guatemala last beat the United States in 1984, and has never defeated them on U.S. soil. Guatemala’s current roster is also made up almost entirely of players who play their club football in Guatemala (one goalkeeper plays in Colombia and a midfielder in Costa Rica). In short, the U.S. squad—even young and inexperienced—has more talent than Guatemala does. It will be a tough task for Guatemala to get a result. The U.S. wins 2–0, and Klinsmann uses all his subs.
The Gold Cup group stage: The U.S. is in Group C with Belize, Cuba, and Costa Rica. The U.S. has never played Belize, as Belize did not exist as an independent country until 1980, and did not play internationally until 1995. They are the minnow-iest of soccer minnows. Cuba last defeated the U.S. in 1947. Costa Rica, however, is the third-best team in CONCACAF after the U.S. and Mexico. The top two teams move on from the group, so the U.S. should hope to beat both Belize and Cuba, and at least tie Costa Rica. The ranking of first and second may very well depend on goal difference, but the U.S. is the best team in the group on paper. Klinsmann will use the group games to discern his best roster and give his youngest, newest players time to establish themselves before the knockout games begin.
Let the games begin
After the euphoria of the recent World Cup qualifying, the U.S. team is in a better place than it has been in a long, long time. Now, instead of using the Gold Cup to search for answers, Klinsmann has the luxury of using the tournament to find Plans B, C, and D for various roster spots, and work on the next generation of players. Will we see another moment like Benny Feilhaber’s tournament-winning goal from 2007? There’s only one way to find out.