Today we have the pleasure of introducing a new contributor to Soccer Yanks, a friend and supporter of the blog and podcast from the very onset.
Written by Jay:
This year’s edition of the Gold Cup is a de-facto CONCACAF all-star case. A perennial showcase of the leagues that inhabit North America.
Thirty-two players represent sixteen MLS teams; Canada (8), Costa Rica (4), and, of course, the U.S. (11) make up the majority. The Tri-color’s entire squad consists of players from the Mexican domestic leagues. The only team competing with a majority of the players on clubs outside of North America is Martinique. All but four Les Matininos earn a living outside of France…someone should have informed the Canadians.
The bi-annual arrangement of the Gold Cup gives the US and Mexico a unique opportunity to trot out their B or C level squads. This year’s winner gets a ticket to a one-game playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup winner for a slot in the 2017 Confederations Cup to be held in Russia. Assuming the US or Mexico win this summer’s tournament, the non-winner will inevitably be forced to bring their A team for 2015. For the players this becomes a chance to create added competition for the World Cup squads, and for some a vital secondary interview.
Even Canada, who hasn’t reached a World Cup since 1986, did not bring their primary selection, as Dwayne Rosario remained with D.C. United. The country’s two best attacking options Will Johnson, of the Portland Timbers (and first XI MLS All Star selection) and former Norwich City striker Simeon Jackson (just signed to Eintracht Braunschweig) played only the first match against Martinique and immediately returned to their respective clubs. Les Rouges, aside from leaving their A level players at home, opted for the full youth movement, excluding the keepers, Jackson and Johnson, the average age of the squad is 23.8. Every player who plys their trade in the MLS, excluding Johnson, is under the average age. The oldest outfield player for Canada is 32 year-old Julian de Guzman, who is currently unsigned. Julian de Guzman is not much different from many of the other players in the Gold Cup. He is looking to cash in.
In the middle of the MLS season and the summer-transfer window, the cup presents an opportunity to display the league’s nation-born stars. The US squad has become a de-facto MLS all-star team, where only six of the twenty-three members have no current or previous league connections. Guys currently in Europe were out of the first team mix due to injuries such as Stuart Holden and Brek Shea, or trying to re-climb their way up the depth chart like Oguchi Onyewu.
The MLS and North American contingency are out to earn a golden ticket to Brazil. Jurgen Klinsmann has not shied away from the idea of making deep cuts by giving the aging and unknowns a shot. The 2012 MLS Golden Boot winner and MVP Chris Wondolowski earning his second shot with the national team at 30 years old; the league’s top-tier holding midfield and first team washout Kyle Beckerman; and the exiled, but still fan beloved, Landon Donovan are the team’s central core. The Philadelphia Union’s 20 year-old number 9 Jack McInerney might have seen the field before Wondolowski staked his claim up front after scoring 5 goals in two games. Operating the wings are Liga MX players Jose Torres, Herculez Gomez, and Joe Coruna. Aside from first team “A” selections Zusi, Omar, Beslar, Evans and Davis, the only other notable exclusion is Mike Magee.
This mass inclusion of MLS talent is no accident by Jurgen Klinsmann. He believes a strong domestic league is necessary for national team development, as evidenced by what he started with Germany. It is not yet known how the new Canadian National team’s manager, Benito Floro, feels about domestic league, but seeing as MLS stars, Donovan and Wondo, are likely to have earned a call up in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, the former Real Madrid Sporting Director will likely see it as mutually beneficial.
In the end, how this Gold Cup plays out will probably say more about the MLS rather than Klinsmann and the US soccer international standings. And for the players, they are playing for something in the grey area between club and country.
A bit about the author:
Jay’s first memory of professional soccer was watching a flaming haired pirate in a blue shirt with white stars menace a golden shirt lion on the field of roses. Since then, he has followed the game from the cradle of US soccer, Northern Jersey. Tracking the progress of the sport in the states through the international team and Major League Soccer he has become a student of tactical football, the business of sports and the cultural impact of the game. Jay enjoys the view from the ivory tower but is not afraid to be in arm’s length of the ultras in the South Ward.