Opportunity knocks for USMNT Gold Cup squad

Posted by Doug McIntyre

SAN DIEGO -- At this exact spot on the schedule four years ago, the national team's roster for the 2010 World Cup looked like it was coming into focus. The Americans were well on their way toward South Africa, and players like Brian Ching, Charlie Davies and Frankie Hejduk seemed like safe bets to make the trip.

At the time, Stuart Holden hadn't earned his first cap and both Herculez Gomez and Clarence Goodson were long shots to make the squad, at best.

Yet when the U.S. kicked off against England in its 2010 opener, Holden, Gomez and Goodson were all in uniform in Rustenburg, while the former three players were back home.

It's a reminder of how quickly things can and do change at the sport's highest level.

"Anything can happen in soccer in a short amount of time," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said here a day before Friday night's friendly match against Guatemala, the Americans' lone tune-up for a Gold Cup tournament that will serve as many U.S. players' last, best chance to make a case for being among the 23-man group that will go to Brazil next summer.

- Donovan: I'm not as 'dynamic'

"This is a massive opportunity for all the players in camp," Goodson told ESPNFC earlier in the week. "It's less than a year away from the World Cup, and we need to do everything we can while we’re here to leave a good taste in Jurgen's mouth so he knows he can rely on us moving forward."

Along with Goodson, who's back for his third consecutive Gold Cup after starting in 2009 and '11, Gomez and Holden are among the 11 players on the roster who spent time with the first string for its three World Cup qualifying wins last month. All three have been key players for the U.S. at various points, all three only lost their starting jobs with the varsity due to injury -- Goodson and Gomez this year, and Holden back in 2011, when he suffered a horrific knee injury in an English Premier League game that he’s only just recovered from -- and all three come into camp with a point to prove.

They're hardly alone.

Also trying to work their way back into the first-team mix are fellow vets Landon Donovan and Oguchi Onyewu -- who likely will partner with Goodson in central defense Friday and in the Americans' group-stage opener against Belize on July 9 -- as well as up-and-comers like Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona.

The first step comes against a retooled Guatemala team that has only three holdovers from the side the U.S. eliminated from 2014 contention last October.

Still, Klinsmann expects Los Chapines to give his team a game.

"They always make it difficult for us," Klinsmann said of Guatemala, which also tied the U.S. in a qualifier last June. "They will make it very tight, they'll have all their numbers behind the ball.

"For us, it's a challenge of how can we break them down, when can we break them down. Hopefully the sooner the better. We need to move the ball around quickly, play with urgency and don’t waste the opportunity when it comes. It's not going to be an easy test, and that's what we need."

Both teams will be able to use up to six substitutes Friday. Don't be surprised if the U.S. uses most of them. While Klinsmann hinted that he'd like to settle on a consistent lineup as the tournament progresses, he also made it clear that he wants to assess as many players as possible over the next month.

"Training is one thing, and a real game is another," he said. "Hopefully we can give all of them the opportunity to play and show us that they want to push toward being a member of the World Cup squad."

"This is the chance I've been waiting for," Corona said after the U.S. trained at Qualcomm Stadium on Thursday evening. "[Jurgen] has stressed to me that I have to be patient and my time will come. I think this Gold Cup is that time."

After all, things can change quickly for youngsters and veterans alike.

"One day, a player is in the best position and the next day, he's very low," Donovan said. "There are others here, like DaMarcus Beasley, who weren't with the national team for several years. Now he's captain of our team. It's always possible for things to go like that in soccer. For me, it's an opportunity to show I can still play and I can take advantage of that."

NOTES

-- Donovan, who missed the Yanks' first three qualifiers of 2013 while on a self-imposed sabbatical and three more when Klinsmann left him off the May/June squad, said he was "excited to be back" with the U.S. team for the first time in almost a year. But the Americans' all-time scoring leader also raised eyebrows when he wouldn't commit to playing all the way through Brazil 2014. "I'm committed to today," he told a small group of reporters after Thursday's training. "We'll see about tomorrow."

Those comments might set off alarm bells for some, but given his recent relationship with national team, Donovan was surely being careful not to sound like his spot on the World Cup roster is a foregone conclusion. "We'll cross that bridge if we get to it," he said.

-- Before a badly bruised knee ruled him out of the Americans' five most recent matches, Gomez had started 12 of 13 games for the first team, mostly on the left wing. But with striker Jozy Altidore (and most of the other regulars) missing this month, Gomez, a natural forward, could get a rare opportunity up top, beginning with the game against Guatemala.

-- With Beasley a near-lock to start at left back, don't be surprised to see Edgar Castillo get a shot on the wing if Gomez does end up as a dedicated striker. "He's playing me up in front of DaMarcus," Castillo said of Klinsmann, who will also have Brek Shea available Friday. "I think I feel a little bit better there than in the back because I'm not a very good defender. We'll see what he does."

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