NEW YORK -- The ante has been upped for Jurgen Klinsmann as he makes preparations for the 2013 Gold Cup - his first official tournament as head coach of the U.S. national team.
CONCACAF announced on Friday that the winner of this year's tournament will face the winner of the 2015 edition to determine who will represent the region at the 2017 Confederations Cup held in Russia. The decision raises the relevance of this summer's event as the subsequent Gold Cup in World Cup cycles usually serves to allow coaches to break in young players.
Klinsmann is confident about his team's chances for the Gold Cup and believes his team can win the first trophy of his tenure this summer.
"We hope to see some positive surprises,” he said during last Friday's media roundtable. “We are still very ambitious going into that Gold Cup. We want to win that tournament.”
Considering the raised stakes of this tournament, Klinsmann admits that he will be relying heavily on players who featured on the Under-23 team that missed a trip to the London Olympics last year and even U.S. internationals who are called up but don't feature much in World Cup qualifiers. It will be a step above the typical "B" squad. Klinsmann said he will consult with clubs to determine availability of certain players throughout the summer.
Projected starters (4-2-3-1):
Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
Johnson clearly has the confidence of Klinsmann at the moment, despite not much separating him and fellow MLS keeper Bill Hamid. An inspired training camp performance from Hamid could change the outcome, but for now Johnson should be manning the posts in July.
Defenders: Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
Morales is a player who intrigues Klinsmann as evidenced from call-ups to big matches against France and Slovenia. The Gold Cup tournament gives him a chance to prove what he's capable of. Besler was impressive against Mexico last week but with only two caps, Klinsmann will likely want to give him a chance to gain tournament experience.
Midfielders: Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Mikkel Diskerud (Rosenburg), Joshua Gatt (Molde FK)
Corona should finally have a chance to feature for the United States after years of being attached to the Stars and Stripes without significant playing time. Okugo plays defense for the Union but his natural position is holding midfield and it is likely that he will see time there with a lack of strong options available. Agudelo will play a role similar to Herculez Gomez and Eddie Johnson on the senior squad, playing on the wing from the midfield.
Forward: Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna)
Boyd doesn't have the dribbling ability of Agudelo, which is why he won't play in midfield, but he is dangerous in the final 18 yards of the field. With good service, Boyd could be a top scorer in this year's competition.
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)*
Defenders: Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Tigres)
Midfielders: Stuart Holden (Sheiffield Wednesday on loan from Bolton), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsingborgs IF)
Forwards: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Joe Gyau (St. Pauli on loan from Hoffenheim)
Wondo's last chance: This tournament could make or break the international future of Wondolowski, who hasn't impressed as a member of the Stars and Stripes. The 2012 MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner is prolific on the club level but it hasn't translated to the international level. Wondolowski has zero goals in nine caps for the United States.
Why include Ricardo Clark? The 2013 Gold Cup might provide chances to assess young players and spot guys in the rotation, but veteran leadership is equally important. Clark understands the importance of being a role player who provides vital experience to an otherwise green locker room. That same leadership was sorely lacking for the United States in the Olympic qualifying debacle, a squad that many of the players listed were on.
Don't be surprised if Landon Donovan is part of the mix: After Donovan's return from his self-imposed sabbatical from soccer, Klinsmann made it very clear that the Galaxy forward will have to prove himself before regaining his place on the senior squad. That might mean having to participate in this year's Gold Cup despite being 31 years old and having 144 caps. Unlikely, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Donovan is called up in July.
Assessing Holden's health: Holden's once-promising career has suffered from various setbacks, with the midfielder having recovered from two very serious knee injuries. Give Holden credit, he hasn't given up on his career where others might have. Holden's recent move to Sheffield Wednesday signals that he might finally be close to full fitness again. An international return could be in the cards if all goes well.
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