To close out a summer that had its ups and downs, the USMNT would face its biggest down of the summer. Playing in East Rutherford, NY at Giants Stadium, the USMNT would be putting their home unbeaten streak on the line against a Mexican side, who was without its A side, but filled with talent. During the course of the Gold Cup competition people have been referring to the squad that U.S. coach Bob Bradley has brought in as a B team or even C team at times, but at no time in the tournament would this side live up to that potential until the Final. Having squeaked out victories or draws in the group stages and knockout rounds, the side seemed to be just “good enough”, but the Mexicans would prove an entire new test for the boys from the U.S. With a team made up of mainly MLS players, 9 of 11 in the starting 11, the USMNT would prove to not be quite a strong enough side to take on the Mexicans.
Starting his 5th out of 6 matches, USMNT keeper Troy Perkins would be tested like he had not been yet in the tournament and left out to dry on plenty of occasions as well by an understaffed back line, he proved to be a tough customer but just did not have enough in the end to combat the talent of the Mexican youngsters. Now I could go on and write a whole blog about how poor the USMNT backline was in this match, but I will shorten it down for all concerned who do not feel like reading a depressing book on inadequacy. Out of the four players making up the back line only 1 even deserves a chance with the full squad and that would be a backup role if any. Chad Marshall had a strong tournament and lacked speed, decision making, and support in this final match of the tournament, but could still see himself with the full side next year in South Africa. While the stories of all the players who do not normally play with the full squad were interesting and fun to see play out at times, a few of these players do not need to be called back in, unless it is just for training. Jay Heaps is a bit old and slow for international football these days, and while it was good to see him get some caps, he does not need to come back into the USMNT and should just stick it out until retirement in the MLS. Clarence Goodson had his moments in the tournament and could see himself invited back, but unless there is an injury to our more talented players he does not really have a chance at CB at this point. And Heath Pearce, who is off the books in Germany now and looking at a move back to MLS? Not a good idea if he wants to build on his skill, making him a good option at LB, but I am afraid Bradley is going to bring him back in anyways since that position is weak in the side right now. He needs to watch his positioning though and make sure to not push as far forward, getting caught out many times, against quick and talented opponents.
Through missed chances by the U.S. in a back and forth first half, in which they controlled the match, the U.S. failed to put any points on the board in the Final. While I could go on and talk about coaching decisions, putting the coaches under the bus, I won’t. Bradley did everything he could with this bunch of players, down to making tactical and personnel decisions when needed. But the man of the day was Mexico’s Coach Aguirre, who saw his side struggling offensively in the first half, and made the best decision that could be made. He brought on Arsenal youngster Carlos Vela, who along with Spurs youngster Gio Dos Santos would transform this match from one in which there was no score to one in which it was hard to see the Mexicans not scoring. The U.S. players tried hard in the second half of the match, well the first half anyways, but in the 54th minute a poor call in the box and ensuing PK that put Mexico up 1-0, would break the players from the U.S., both mentally and physically, making them as good as gone in the Final. Coach Bradley would counter quickly by bringing in Kenny Cooper and Santino Quaranta for Logan Pause and Davy Arnaud, but not quick enough as Mexico would find a second before the two men even set foot on the pitch. The pain would not be over for the U.S. in this one quite yet though as Mexico would continue to press, scoring 3 more with no responses from the U.S. before this match was over.
Outraged by the result, many first teamers from the USMNT would flood Twitter with comments stating their disappointment and letting it be known that they were now looking forward to the rematch that will take place against Mexico at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on August 12th. The U.S. has a less than stellar record when playing on Mexican soil up to now, and although many first team players for the USMNT are now pumped up for the match, it is likely the form the USMNT shows when playing in Mexico could stay true to form. So we will be on the lookout for this match now, as if we would not watch anyways, and hope to see the USMNT jump the hurdle they have faced in Mexico until now, and come out victorious in the end. The USMNT side will now go back to World cup qualifying, and although they have now disappointed in two tournament finals, I would say they are showing improvement on the whole, and look to coast through the final stages of qualification with ease.
As for overall views of the tournament and these new players Bradley has brought into the fold, here is my view on where the players now stand. Troy Perkins while many disagree with me, I believe has bumped himself up the pecking order to fight for the #2 spot with Aston Villa backup keeper Brad Guzan. Heath Pearce playing in a spot the U.S. lacks depth could still find himself in the final squad, but I am not hopeful that he will be able to provide the strength we need on the defensive wing and hope to see Bradley find a permanent solution for that spot going into South Africa. Clarence Goodson could find himself invited into camp in the future, but at the moment I do not think he will be able to beat out the players we currently have in the CB position. Chad Marshall, while not the quickest and not the most talented at the moment, could find himself on the bench for South Africa as a backup because of the size and strength that he brings to the backline. Jay Heaps got his Swan Song in the Gold Cup, and although he brings a strong veteran presence to a back line, he just does not have the makeup to make it on the International stage anymore.
A few notables who played in the defense during the tournament are Brad Evans, Jimmy Conrad, and Michael Parkhurst. Evans is young and could find himself on the pitch for the USMNT in the future, but his chances look bleak at this point, he is young though and will have many chances in the future. Jimmy Conrad, a strong veteran, could find himself with a chance for the World Cup, but the chances are not good that he will see any pitch time if he manages to make the squad, he is a strong CB though and has served the USMNT well over the years. Michael Parkhurst in my opinion was inconsistent in his time during the Gold Cup, Bob will most likely invite him into camp but I cannot see him making the squad without some serious improvement, like Evans though he is young and does have a shot for the future with the USMNT. Luis Robles, what can I say, he played in place of Perkins between the pipes in one match during the Gold Cup and looked out of place for practically the entire match. We were lucky to pull a draw in that match and I do not see Robles making an appearance again in the near future, as we have currently a roster loaded with quality young keepers.
The mid fielders for the Gold Cup will most likely find a chance in the future, but there are a few of note that have a chance, and I will mention them here. Stuart Holden made a case for himself in this tournament, proving he is cool under pressure, but does disappear at times during the match. He could find himself on the squad for South Africa, though most of his time will probably be coming from off the bench. Robbie Rogers is another strong player who has a strong chance in the future of USMNT football, and while he is a strong player, I do not see him quite having enough to make the squad for South Africa but will definitely be invited to camp and given a chance. And though he will most likely not make the full squad, I think Kyle Beckerman will get a call into camp at least. He is a strong holding midfielder and I think Bob will give him a look, unfortunately for Beckerman though, holding midfield is one of the strongest and deepest positions in the USMNT camp. So these three MLS players I believe have a chance for the future, but I would not hold my breath if you are a fan and hoping to see them lining up with the first team any time soon. One of note who was not with the side throughout the tournament, but in my opinion has written his ticket to South Africa already though, is Benny Feilhaber. The kid is good and will be there in either the first 11 or coming off the bench, but at this point there is no reason to leave him out.
Up top is somewhere the U.S. lags behind many in the rest of the world, but here is what I saw from the Gold Cup. Brian Ching is the best replacement as a target man since Brian McBride has retired from the national team, he will be in South Africa, but it is likely he will not be starting. Ching’s replacement could be youngster Jozy Altidore, who has now gone on loan to Greek side Olympiacos, and barring a season on the bench could solidify himself in the USMNT starting 11 by the time the World Cup starts. Surprise of the summer though would be Charlie Davies, who started strong during the Confederations Cup and continued into the Gold Cup before joining his new side Socheaux for preseason. Davies is quick and dangerous up top, something we have been lacking in the USMNT the last few years. It will be interesting to see how Davies does and where he takes us in the future. Davy Arnaud and Kenny Cooper both competed in the Gold Cup, but neither impressed fans enough to want them in the full squad. Cooper became the super sub in the tournament, scoring twice in 4 appearances from the bench, but he is young and still needs some work before he can make it with the first team. Arnaud on the other hand played a strong role in the Gold Cup, but does not hold the quality the U.S. needs going into the World Cup.
All in all the 5-0 defeat by the Mexicans in the Gold Cup final was disappointing. What did you expect though, as Bradley put out a pro MLS team to play against some of the best players in the world from our region? This Gold Cup did not matter towards the next World Cup or Confederations Cup and so Bradley did the right thing, and impressed by taking a pro MLS side as far as he did. Finding out what depth we have was a plus for Bradley in this tournament, and now we can get back to the business at hand and finish World Cup qualifying strong. I am looking forward to it as I know all other USMNT fans are. The next year will be interesting to say the least and next summer promises to be exciting.