In the middle of the 19th century, the California Gold Rush brought more than 300,000 entrepreneurial souls to the coast of the Pacific Ocean in search of riches and fame. Yet, much like other cross-country journeys of the era, there was much danger. For every one who found what they were looking for, many others left bankrupted. Many players on Jürgen Klinsmann’s USMNT face similar prospects of risk and reward. As they go panning for gold the next month, they can either find fortune, or leave their national team future in tatters. This series seeks to look at what each member of the squad has on the line in the Gold Cup. Part Three: Midfielders.
Two games into the 2013 Gold Cup and there are a few things we’ve already learned about this USMNT “B-plus Team.” Chris Wondolowski has played himself into the conversation for a World Cup spot — among fans if not with Jürgen Klinsmann — with his five goals, Stuart Holden isn’t perfect but he is back and Kyle Beckerman has been using Jedi mind tricks to fool us into thinking he might not be that awful. Or he might actually not be that awful, we’ll have to wait and see.
Yet, there is still a lot on the line. Games against Belize and Cuba have provided a nice baseline for some players, but they are hardly the type of opponents where careers are made. And, when it comes to this iteration of the Stars & Stripes, the midfield are where there are the most careers to be made. Where other positions are mostly filled with journeyman trying to fight their way back from Siberian exile and marginal national team players, the midfield is rife with young, hungry players looking to make their first major impressions on Klinsmann. Every situation is different, but no where is it more interesting than in the midfield in this Gold Cup.
To Gain: A bigger role. Whenever the full team has convened in recent months, Corona has usually been on hand. Of course, while he has been through all the rigors of training, when it comes to the game most of his minutes are spent on the bench, only spared with the occasional substitute appearance. With his solid performances in the early stages of the Gold Cup — he earned my Man of the Match nod against Cuba — he has started to make his case, but has still lacked a little consistency in his performances. If he can bring his creativity and attacking presence, supplementing it with an appropriate dose of confidence, he might force himself into a crowded midfield with the full team, either with some starting nods or as a super sub off the bench to change the feel of a game.
To Lose: His delicately held spot on the “A-team.” It’s clear that Klinsmann sees and acknowledges the talent Corona possesses. It’s also apparent that he believes the Tijuana man is closer to real contribution than some other young players, as he has been getting some reps with the full team. But Corona is far from a finished product. With Landon Donovan poised to make his return to the “A-team,” if Corona shows he is unable to bring it in 90-minute doses or still lacks the maturity to be trusted in big situations, he could be left on the outside when the going really gets tough, say, in Brazil.
To Gain: A determined future. Another young player with a world of potential, Mix has already gained the one thing out of this tournament that most fans wanted — the Norwegian dual-national is now officially cap tied to the USMNT. In the actual games, Diskerud has looked dangerous at all times and is easily the most fun player to watch on the pitch. A truly fantastic performance, and maybe a move to higher levels in Europe as a result, could vault him into the discussion, but what Mix really has to gain is a spot in the pecking order. Right now, it still remains confusing as to where he would slot into the preferred 4-2-3-1. Would he step in for Michael Bradley? Clint Dempsey? Form a new role entirely? Once Klinsmann knows, the path might be a little easier for Mix.
To Lose: Any chance to make an impact this cycle. Obviously with two games already under his belt, it is tough to see what he could lose. Still, that doesn’t mean he can’t hurt his standing in the setup. He wasn’t a starter in the second game against Cuba, a role he needs to earn back in the rest of the tournament. Otherwise, it remains tough to see how Diskerud could really make an impact before the Russia 2018 cycle.
To Gain: Faith, confidence and the support of his coach. It appears Holden has already done much of what he came to the Gold Cup to do, as he at least partly gained back all three of those — not to mention the unbridled adoration of much of the US fan base. What Holden really stands to gain is constancy and fitness. With those, he’ll be much more likely to play an important role with Bolton when he returns to them in preseason. As a result, he might just become the most likely Gold Cup-to-World Cup success story.
To Lose: Nothing. Nothing at all. If he had come out flat from the beginning, Holden could have lost something in this Gold Cup. In reality, just seeing him play big minutes — even starting — was a win. If it all goes to hell from here, Holden still came out on top.
To Gain: A little respect. Oh, and maybe a trip to Brazil. No player at any level of the USMNT hierarchy draws as much ire from fans as Beckerman. Just ask Steve Fogarty. Few players have been in and out of Klinsmann’s squad — without an injury — as much as the Real Salt Lake midfielder. The knock against his style seems to be more at home against better teams, as he is content to break up attacks and keep things simple and lacks to real attacking instinct to create goals. Of course, then he goes out and finds Chris Wondolowski with a beautiful assist in each of the first two games. Still no respect from the fans. He might have already won over Klinsmann, but if he can keep it up, and show a little more forward-thinking acumen, Beckerman might make a few more friends in the crowd as well.
To Lose: Traction. As I noted, the opinion of Beckerman is trending upward. The law of inertia dictates that things in motion are likely to stay in motion, unless something acts upon. What could do such acting you ask? Well, any regression toward the Beckerman of old could undo all the good. Anything worse than that might just knock him back on the wrong side of the bubble as well.
To Gain: Realization of his talent. Since 2008, Torres has had a spot in the plans of USMNT coaches Bob Bradley and now Klinsmann. Since those very first time, those coaches have struggled to find the best place on the field for the mercurial Texan. Left back, attacking midfielder, deep-lying playmaker have all brought out intriguing — and occasionally promising — moments, but the wing may be his spot for the future in the USMNT. If he can find some consistency there, Torres could surpass his competition for the energy-injecting super sub come next summer.
To Lose: Himself. In the shuffle. While a dynamic super sub is probably his ceiling with this cycle’s USMNT, he is hardly the only exciting player trying to take hold of that role. His versatility is nice, but unless he can show the ability to consistently make an impact, wherever it is on the pitch, he could be the first one left behind.
To Gain: A leg up on the competition. The Boston College product has had his moments with the USMNT — 16 caps in all — and has shown the ability to provide much the same spark as Torres. That said, Bedoya is probably buried a little deeper on the depth chart, so his performances will have to be something special. If he can really provide energy and maybe a little width, Klinsmann will have to take notice.
To Lose: His upward trajectory. Since moving back to Sweden, Bedoya has been rising. He looked set to move to FC Twente in Holland, but that moved seemed to stall. If he fails to impress in this tournament, it could stunt his development at the club level as well as with the national team.
To Gain: His status as a vaunted prospect back. After that game against Cuba, there is really nowhere to go but up. That one game and a listless last 18 months of injuries and poor form made everyone forget that Shea was once seen as the future savior of the USMNT. He’s not going to prove that he still is against the likes of El Salvador and a depleted Mexico, but some good performances can’t hurt.
To Lose: His excuses and maybe his future. True, Shea has been injured and had some club misfortune, but it has been some rough times. At 23 he is still young for an American player, but he does need to start figuring it out sooner rather than later. The fact that Stoke City and new manager Mark Hughes were willing to let Shea play in the Gold Cup shows that he may not factor into plans for the upcoming season. If he continues to look lost and listless as he seems healthy enough to play big minutes, there won’t exactly be a long line of suitors willing to lend a hand to his career.