With the never-ending relay race that an international soccer squad, youth must always take over for age at some point or another to keep the wheels turning and the squad supplied.
With the Gold Cup roster released, it’s already been heavily discussed how mixed the squad appears, with the presence of both fading veterans and untested youth.
However, not only is the squad balanced with both ends of the spectrum, the baton will almost literally be handed over in this year’s Gold Cup.
Jurgen Klinsmann has signified with his roster choices that he will almost certainly use the veterans in the defense (see: Onyewu, Oguchi) to lead the way and assist those new youngsters and find out who’s cut out for the future of the national team.
New names in the midfield and front line include Will Bruin, Jack McInerney, Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, and Joshua Gatt. Those five have a combined 11 caps between them all.
Most eyes will be on the young tandem of Mix Diskerud and Jack McInerney. If they get significant time, it will give the country a wonderful look at what’s to come in the next few years. Diskerud is still not officially cap-tied to the United States, although he’s said his intentions remain with the Stars and Stripes and not Norway.
McInerney has torn up Major League Soccer winning two consecutive Player of the Month awards, tied for the league lead with 10 goals, and carrying the Philadelphia Union squarely on his shoulders.
Much has been discussed about Onyewu, who is at a crossroads, and could be on his last national team legs unless he makes an impact.
However, he’s not alone. The role of the veterans in this squad isn’t simply to carry the youth on their shoulders until they can support themselves. They have plenty of work to do of their own.
Also in support of the new kids will be the likes of Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Herculez Gomez, DaMarcus Beasley, and Clarence Goodson. Donovan has to prove he can contribute at a high level as he used to before his sabbatical – any drop in value and he could be replaced by the surging Graham Zusi. As Klinsmann put it, it’d Donovan’s “chance to prove where he’s at.”
Wondolowski must make it clear to Klinsmann that his spotty MLS season isn’t a sign that age is rearing its ugly head.
Gomez has never been a USMNT regular, and at 31 years old surely has his last opportunity to make a World Cup roster and contribute. He must show his performance in the early stages of this World Cup qualification cycle wasn’t a one-time deal.
And finally Goodson also has plenty of work to do if he has any hope to break into a suddenly crowded USMNT back line, with his contributions from South Africa a distant memory.
Whether they’re young or old, each player has plenty to prove in the Gold Cup this year.
While it’s not the most important competition on the United States’ calender, it is of vital importance to just about every member on the roster.
If the kids make their mark, the country will have watched the passing of the baton, assisted by some of the bigger names in United States soccer over the last decade who may fade into the shadow of youth.