The post-World Cup period was a tough one for the United States men’s soccer team and coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Searching far and wide for both players and systems to take the team onto the next World Cup in Russia, stuttering performances and a propensity for conceding late goals brought increasing criticism upon the former Germany coach.
But all that changed with two results that may have even been beyond the dreams of the ever-optimistic Klinsmann. Seeking to hone the squad ahead of this summer’s Gold Cup on home soil, the U.S. could not have wished for a greater morale boost than that provided by victories away from home against the Netherlands and world champion Germany.
Of course, there are significant caveats. Both matches were end-of-season friendlies and neither European power was at their strongest, either in terms of personnel or intensity. But that will do little to take away from the belief it will surely have given the U.S. players after scoring late goals to claim famous wins.
For the U.S., the Gold Cup is the undoubted focus of this year. After taking the trophy two years ago, victory in the final of the Concacaf championship would see the U.S. claim a spot in the Confederations Cup in 2017 and provide ideal preparation for the World Cup back in Russia a year later. Anything less and the team will have to face a playoff with the tournament winner later this year.
Before thinking about that, though, the U.S. will have to navigate a potentially tricky group. While it would be a major surprise were the holders to fail to advance to the quarterfinals, the presence of Honduras and Panama, alongside minnows Haiti, makes it arguably the toughest of the three groups. Honduras have qualified for the last two World Cups and beat the U.S. in the last qualifying cycle as well as holding it to a draw in Florida last October. Panama, meanwhile, are an improving squad that only failed to make it into a playoff for a chance to go to its first World Cup in the most agonizing of circumstances.
In the latter stages things will get tougher still. Costa Rica proved what a tough team it is to beat by achieving the best result of any Concacaf team at the last World Cup, going all the way to the quarterfinals. And the United States’ biggest rival, Mexico, also promises to be much stronger than it was in the last Gold Cup. Despite also competing in the Copa America this month, Mexico has made the Gold Cup its clear priority, allowing the likes of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Carlos Vela and Hector Herrera full chance to prepare for the Gold Cup.
Klinsmann has spoken of the differing challenges his squad will face in the Gold Cup compared with its recent high-profile friendly successes.
“The opponents will be mostly defensive minded,” he told the U.S. Soccer Federation’s website in recent days. We need different types of elements in our game to break them down, but at the same time we want to open up the energy that we’ve now generated with wins like in Holland and in Germany to give our players an extra kick in order to win this very, very important Gold Cup.”
Klinsmann has already named his provisional squad of 35 players, from which 23 will be selected near the end of June. The list doesn’t include Danny Williams, who scored the equalizer that allowed the U.S. to go and beat the Netherlands, while fellow-midfielder Jermaine Jones is out through injury. A bigger surprise, though, comes in the form of one of the names that is included. DaMarcus Beasley retired from international duty after playing in a U.S.-record fourth World Cup last year, but the 33-year-old has accepted a call to return the fold as Klinsmann seeks a solution to what has been a somewhat problematic left-back position.
But it still remains to be seen if another vastly experienced international will be included on the final roster. The second highest goalscorer in U.S. history, Clint Dempsey, has put his place at the Gold Cup in doubt after an incident in a U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday night when he ripped up the referee’s notebook to earn a red card. It could have far more serious ramifications with a lengthy suspension that may continue through the Gold Cup a real possibility. Even with Jozy Altidore back, the loss of Dempsey would be a major blow to U.S. hopes of emerging victorious in what promises to be perhaps the most competitive Gold Cup yet.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), William Yarbrough (Club León)
Defenders: Ventura Alvarado (Club América), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Greg Garza (Club Atlas), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Michael Orozco (Pubela), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers), Brek Shea (Orlando City), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ), Jordan Morris (Stanford University), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
U.S. Gold Cup Group A Schedule
Tuesday, July 7: vs. Honduras at 9:30 p.m. EDT (Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas)
Friday, July 19: vs. Haiti at 8:30 p.m. EDT (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.)
Monday, July 13: vs. Panama at 9:30 p.m. EDT (Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan.)