2013 Gold Cup

Which US national team stars saw their stock rise after Gold Cup glory?

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Following the 1-0 win over Panama in Sunday’s Gold Cup final, plenty of USMNT players will pleased with their contribution over the past month.

Six games in searing temperatures, at packed out stadiums, facing energy-sapping opposition will have taken its toll on plenty of the USA’s stars.

But after a well-deserved break, a few Yanks in particular will be all smiles with Gold Cup medals around their neck.

We are going to leave Landon Donovan out of this conversation because, well, quite frankly he should never be in it in the first place.

And some may disagree with this, but Chris Wondolowski doesn’t make the cut. We already knew he could score against poor opposition but he showed he still can’t do it against the better teams after his display in the quarterfinal.

(MORE: Top five takeaways as USA clinch Gold Cup in style)

Back to Donovan, in my opinion he would be on the plane to Brazil and involved in the upcoming qualifiers in a heartbeat. And after his MVP showing during the Gold Cup, plenty more will assume Donovan’s place in the US squad is rubber stamped, for now.

However there were some players who shone almost as brightly as Donovan, as Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad triumphed. Let’s see who.

1. Kyle Beckerman

He cleaned up the space in front of the USA’s central defenders with consummate ease throughout the tournament. Real Salt Lake’s captain doesn’t do anything spectacularly well and you can’t really rave about him, as readers on this blog have pointed out to me in the past. But he keeps things ticking over nicely, does a tremendous job of shutting off the oppositions passing lanes and is calmness personified in the heat of the battle. Every team needs a man like him. Barcelona have Sergio Busquets, Real Madrid have Xabi Alonso and if one of the first choice midfielders is injured, the USA would be fine with Beckerman patrolling in front of the back four. True professional and a great tournament.

2. Mix Diskerud

Not too many people had seen Diskerud play before this Gold Cup, apart from that stunning goal vs. Russsia, and now they want to see more. The Norwegian-American was known for his vast range of passing and delicate interplay, but we saw a real grit and determination from him. Especially in the final. Diskerud must have been disappointed to be left out of the starting lineup but when Holden went off injured, he came on and solidified the midfield with a ruthless shift of tackles and clever probing. Panama’s midfielder never got a chance to settle on the ball. This tournament did Diskerud no harm at all.

3. Clarence Goodson

Signing for the San Jose Earthquakes on the eve of the tournament, US fans were pleased to see Goodson heading back to MLS. And now they’ll be even more excited after the dominate displays he put in. The former Brondby captain was calm and assured on the ball but matched every challenge thrown at him. Plus his two exquisite long range balls to help set up goals in the USA’s win over Honduras were sublime. Goodson, Matt Besler or Omar Gonzalez? Now it’s a tough decision.

4. Eddie Johnson

After being added to the squad for the knockout rounds, EJ came up big, twice, as the US downed El Salvador and then Hondruas. 2-1 up and struggling to get that vital third goal against El Salvador against the partisan crowd in Baltimore, EJ came off the bench and scored with his first touch. Then he struck early to settle US nerves against Honduras in Dallas. So often the man for the big occasion, Johnson must now be second on the depth chart after Jozy Altidore for the central strikers role. A job well done.

5. Brek Shea

This may raise some eyebrows, but Shea needed this tournament, big time. You have to remember he wasn’t even on the roster but after Josh Gatt’s injury, Klinsmann kept Shea around and the rest is history. His goal won the Gold Cup after his first touch as a sub in the final, it wasn’t a classic but they all count. But whenever he came onto the pitch he added pace, whipped in some great balls and was a huge nuisance. It was a glimpse of the old Shea, which is something we haven’t seen for a while. However, I think we’ll be seeing plenty more of him for the national team in the coming months.

Decision time looms, who will start for USA in Sunday’s Gold Cup final?

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Is this Jurgen Klinsmann’s hardest decision as USMNT head coach?

It has to be up there.

As Sunday’s Gold Cup final against Panama draws closer, Klinsmann has an incredible selection conundrum to unravel.

With so many of his players performing to a level never seen before, the USA’s squad is stronger than ever. But, as tends to happen in soccer, you can only select 11 players to go out there between the white lines.

Klinsmann must have a good idea of who he will select, but there are certain areas where two or three players are vying for the same position. There will be some very disappointed men on the subs bench at Soldier Field when Sunday afternoon’s final begins.

(MORE: Strongest U.S. national team in history? Check out these three starting XI’s)

So let’s break this down by each position and see who may have the edge. As you’ll see, Klinsmann has plenty of options.

Goalkeeper: Perhaps the easiest decision of the bunch to start off with, Nick Rimando has done extremely well in the Gold Cup, thwarting El Salvador superbly when the US had a slender 2-1 lead in the quarterfinal. Expect him to get the nod between the sticks.

Defense: This will be a somewhat tricky decision for Klinsmann, as Clarence Goodson played so well in the semifinal on Wednesday night. Does he bring back Omar Gonzalez to partner Matt Besler? Those two were the first-choice pairing during the USA’s recent World Cup qualifiers and handled the pressure superbly. Left back is set with captain DaMarcus Beasley, although he has been found out a few times. And Michael Parkhurst will put in another solid shift at right back.

Midfield: Perhaps the only man guaranteed a spot in the US midfield is Kyle Beckerman. Real Salt Lake’s dread-locked genius was incredible against Honduras, reading the game superbly and cutting off the supply line to the Honduran forwards. His role as destroyer is safe. But the other central midfield spots are between Stuart Holden, Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud. That is a very tough choice. Holden may have the edge and he put in a great shift on Wednesday, but Diskerud and Corona have both shown more going forward. It depends if Klinsi will play a diamond or a flat four across the middle, Alejandro Bedoya and Jose Torres did well out wide against Honduras, especially Bedoya, but he may opt to leave out the winger and bring Corona in to the middle to create a more compact unit. Huge call for the center of the field.

Forward: Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson has grabbed his chance with both hands and looks set to lead the line against Panama. And Landon Donovan should operate just underneath him. But will Klinsmann decide to play Donovan out wide and leave EJ up front on his own? And what about Chris Wondolowski? I think we will see the San Jose man come on in the second half, especially if the US need a goal to clinch the Gold Cup.

Yankees legend Mariano Rivera inspires Panama before Gold Cup semi

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Panama face Mexico tonight in the Gold Cup’s other semifinal contest at Cowboys Stadium. They square-off at 10pm ET after the USA play Honduras.

Panama are the underdogs, but leading up to the game, they got a little help from someone who knows a thing or two about closing out games.

New York Yankees legendary Panamanian pitcher Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees relief pitcher happened to be in town as New York took on the Texas Rangers this week so the 43-year-old, who has won five World Series’, gave Panama’s national team some inspiration.

How cool is that?

Los Canaleros face their toughest task yet this evening, after impressing during the Gold Cup group stages and quarterfinals.

But will Rivera help Panama cause a big upset and oust El Tri to make just their second-ever Gold Cup final? One Panamanian striker very familiar to MLS fans was certainly impressed.

“It was a very motivational conversation,” FC Dallas and Panama striker Blas Pérez told reporters. “He’s a person who is a great believer in God, he gave us a lot of inspiring quotes that will stay with us and we have to [look to him] as a great example.”

Panama are huge underdogs, there’s no doubt about it. But Rivera’s words may just help them overturn a Mexican side that will be heavily supported in Dallas this evening.

(MORE: Torres’ double gives Panama first-ever win vs. Mexico)

Inspirational words or not, Panama will need to be at their best all over the pitch to stand a chance of beating Mexico.

But, wait a minute… that’s right, Panama already beat Mexico in the Group A opener back on July 7. A 2-1 win in Pasadena came courtesy of two goals from Gabriel Torres, the joint-top goalscorer in the 2013 Gold Cup with five to his name, and was Panama’s first win against Mexico in history.

Isn’t that inspirational enough?

Regardless, forwards Perez and Torres will both cause Mexico plenty of problems tonight and expect an epic battle in Dallas. Can El Tri beat an inspired Panamanian side?

If they can’t, Mariano Rivera played a part in Panama’s trip to the Gold Cup final. You better believe it.

Osvaldo Alonso: ‘I’m very happy’ for Cuban national team’s success in Gold Cup

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SEATTLE — Despite not being able to play for his native country anymore, Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is not afraid to support Cuba in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He watched the final group match against Belize, an improbable 4-0 win that sent Cuba into the quarterfinals.

“They have to play now [against Panama] like they did with Belize,” Alonso said after Sounders training on Thursday. “I hope they go to the semifinal.”

It’s the second time in Gold Cup history that Cuba advanced beyond the first round. The other came in 2003, when a 2-0 win over Canada and 3-0 loss to Costa Rica was enough to advance out of the three-team group, based on that head-to-head result with Canada. (All three teams in the group ended on three points — Costa Rica had a plus-2 goal difference, while the others finished with minus-1.)

Under intense scrutiny every time it takes the field, mostly from people counting players to see whether any of the 23-man roster has defected to the United States, Cuba has held onto every player so far. When the team played in Portland, Ore., against Costa Rica to open its tournament, Alonso made the short drive south to watch the game.

“They’re focused. I don’t know anybody [who has] defected yet, but I think they’re focused on the game,” he said. “They want to win. I spoke with them when I went to Portland. They told me they’re going to play hard to be in the final.”

Alonso had only positive memories of his time playing with Cuba, despite life off the field driving him to defect to the U.S. He left the team during the 2007 Gold Cup, on an outing to a Wal-Mart in Houston.

He trained with Chivas USA for a short time, eventually signing with the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer Leagues First Division. After he won the USL-1 Rookie of the Year, Seattle Sounders FC picked him up.

“Always good things go through my mind, being with the national team,” Alonso said. “Representing Cuba is something good, but now I have to focus on Seattle. I have to forget Cuba. I’m not allowed to play anymore, so the only thing I have from Cuba is just my friends.”

Charleston, where Alonso signed his first American professional contract, has become somewhat of a haven for Cuban defectors. Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, midfielder Maikel Chang and forward Evier Cordovéz currently play for the Battery. All three left the Cuban team prior to a World Cup qualifier against Canada in Toronto in 2012.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to come here, to play in the MLS and USL — any league,” Alonso said. “I’m very happy for them, to come here and get the opportunity to play professionally.”


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Breakdown: Let’s take a look at the Gold Cup quarterfinals

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With the Gold Cup group stages over and the knockout round to begin this weekend, let’s take a casual glance at what lies ahead.

After the U.S. national team defeated Costa Rica 1-0 last night in Connecticut, the field for the final eight was set.

And this year’s Gold Cup has produced plenty of surprises, including Cuba’s stunning 4-0 win over Belize yesterday which saw them reach the quarterfinals for just the second-time in their history.

The Cubans needed to win by four or more to qualify, and scored the decisive goal in the final minute. Wonderful stuff.

So, who’s playing who? Well, on Saturday a double header takes place at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, with the Cuban heroes taking on Panama. That’s followed by Mexico taking on Trinidad and Tobago for a place in the semifinals.

On Sunday the USA face El Salvador, while a huge clash takes place between old rivals Costa Rica and Honduras. Both games will be played at the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.

Now that we know the match ups, what can we expect from this bumper weekend of Gold Cup action?

Panama vs. Cuba

Everything points to a blowout Panama win. But this Cuban side is certainly gutsy after that incredible last-gasp effort (watch below) against Belize. For the first-half against the USA, Cuba held their own and look dangerous going forward so Panama will have to watch out. However anything other than a resounding Panama win would surprise me, as they remain unbeaten in the tournament.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJRN_cDFU7M&w=560&h=315]

Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago

Mexico have been up and down during the Gold Cup but things are starting to come together for Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre’s side. Wins against Canada and Martinique have helped them recover following the defeat to Panama. T&T have Kenwyne Jones up front and will provide a difficult task for El Tri. Upset alert.

USA vs. El Salvador

Klinsmann’s men are cruising after three wins from three following last night’s 1-0 victory over Costa Rica. (watch below) But El Salvador have caused Klinsmann’s men a few problems in the past. Sacha Klejstan scored a last-minute winner when they last met in 2010, and the Yanks had to come from behind to win and tie in the two previous meeting before that. The Salvadorans beat Haiti 1-0 to secure their place in the quarters but the U.S. should win comfortably.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bgjft1n9ZEs&w=560&h=315]

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

When these nations clash there’s often a scuffle and Sunday will be no different. Costa Rica have won 1-0 in the previous two meetings between the teams, and you should expect a tight game in Baltimore. Passion, pride and the will to make the semifinals should make this a pulsating clash between the Central American rivals.