Now that the secondary goal of winning the thing has been accomplished, it’s time to turn our attention to the true purpose of the United States’ participation in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup: evaluating the player pool.
A large number of players participated in the tournament or in the pre-tournament preparations, many with the hope of improving their standing in the eyes of coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Stand-out performances at the Gold Cup would surely give some players a chance to play in the fall World Cup Qualifiers and, hopefully, get them on the plane to Brazil.
So, whose stock jumped, and whose took a dive?
Stuart Holden: Holden, through no fault of his own, is the first and biggest disappointment of the Gold Cup, with the news on Monday that he tore his right ACL during the final against Panama. Holden had come on leaps and bounds and, along with Mix Diskerud, seemed likely to push for more playing time in central midfield as a playmaker. His drive and passing were boons to the team, but with another major injury to recover from, Holden faces long, possibly insurmountable, odds to be fit enough to represent his country at the World Cup
Chris Wondolowski: Wondolowski, of course, began the tournament on fire, scoring five goals in two games, and looking like he might have finally broken through his international scoring wall. Unfortunately, as soon as the competition increased in difficulty, his goals dried up, as did his playing time. Wondo’s goal-scoring outburst looks to have been too little, too late.
Edgar Castillo and Oguchi Onyewu: Both of these players have seen their places taken by other men, and neither looks likely to reclaim them. Castillo hasn’t gotten much playing time at left back since DaMarcus Beasley made the position his own. But, unlike Fabian Johnson, he hasn’t looked able to contribute enough in midfield to warrant selection there. If depth at left back is needed by World Cup time, he might get a chance, but it doesn’t look likely. Gooch, for his part, made his return to the national team after a long time away, due to injury and lack of playing time at club level. In his limited appearances, he did nothing to suggest he is a better option than the string of younger players that have manned central defense since he left the team.
Landon Donovan: There’s nothing more to say, really, about Donovan’s performance. Only Panama was able to contain him, even a little bit, and Klinsmann acknowledged that there’s really no reason at all not to include Donovan in upcoming rosters. Fitting him into the team while still accommodating Clint Dempsey may be the biggest obstacle, but only injury or Donovan himself will stop him from going to another World Cup.
Kyle Beckerman: Beckerman, quietly and without flash, staked his claim as the U.S.’s best defensive midfielder. While the U.S. does not always play with a straightforward DM (lineups with both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones often don’t have one), when it does, Beckerman’s name has to be at the top of the list. (Danny Williams is his only practical competition.) Watching the U.S. struggle without him against Costa Rica was instructive. The positives in his play more than made up for the negatives, so Klinsmann would do well to see if there are shapes that could integrate him into the A team.
Brek Shea: A mercurial talent, Shea’s play was mixed at the Gold Cup, but his telling contributions to the two toughest tests (against Costa Rica and Panama) are big tallies in his favor.
Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya: All three of these midfielders made important contributions to the team offensively. All three scored and participated meaningfully in the offensive play of the team, with Bedoya notching several assists, including on the tournament-winning goal. While competition for midfield places will certainly be stiff, these three all improved their standing.
Clay Goodson: Goodson didn’t begin the tournament as a starter, but he did end it as one. After some shaky defensive play in the group stage brought about the quarterfinal call-ups of both Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, it seemed as if Goodson had lost his manager’s faith, along with the rest of the central defenders. But since Gonzalez couldn’t arrive until the semifinal, Goodson partnered Besler in the quarters, and did enough to retain his place for the semi, where he put in another solid display. In the final, Goodson got the nod again, and the U.S. put in its best defensive performance of the tournament. Not to mention that Goodson appears to be a threat offensively, as well, scoring twice in the tournament. With the center back positions still up for grabs, Goodson laid down a claim for more playing time.
Eddie Johnson: Johnson was another quarterfinal roster addition, and against both El Salvador and Honduras, he was nearly unplayable. His power and quickness hugely unsettled those defenses, and his understanding with Donovan bore real fruit. He was bottled up a bit, like the rest of the offense, by Panama, but he continued his national team renaissance, and will surely be included in this fall’s rosters.
Jürgen Klinsmann: The stock of the coach has gone up rapidly. Putting out a team that played with panache, scored 20 goals in six games, and won every one of them will do that.
The U.S. is stacked, offensively. With the growth of Diskerud, Corona, and Bedoya, the improved play of Shea, and the return of Donovan, the Gold Cup provided a plethora of new and improved options for Klinsmann to consider. Defensively, center back depth has grown, with Goodson and also Michael Orozco Fiscal looking decent options behind Gonzalez and Besler. Right back is still a concern. Michael Parkhurst did fine, but Steve Cherundolo still seems the best option there. Parkhurst may have leapt to the number two position on the depth chart, though.
In short, the Gold Cup could not have gone better. The injury to Holden is tragic and a sad loss for the team, but pragmatically speaking, the U.S. has the players to replace his production. It will be very exciting to see an attack including Bradley, Donovan, Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore all playing together this fall … and beyond.