The off-year Gold Cup is a tournament many would rather sweep under the rug. Sure, these are international matches against regional rivals, but with World Cup qualification happening almost simultaneously, most teams' rosters are a stocked with fringe players, giving the tournament an air of irrelevance.
This year, though, CONCACAF decided to raise the stakes, declaring that the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup winners would meet in a playoff to determine which country will represent the region at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. This marked a change from the previous format of automatically sending the Gold Cup winner from two years prior.
Even more than the format change, though, the 2013 Gold Cup represents a unique opportunity for the U.S. program: Competitive matches to cap-tie B-team players.
The U.S. will be able to cap-tie any dual-eligibility player without throwing him in the fire of more important matches. This opens up a number of opportunities to permanently bind players to the U.S. program. Here are a few the U.S. would be wise to cap-tie at this summer's Gold Cup:
Alfredo Morales, defender/midfielder, Hertha Berlin
Jürgen Klinsmann has rated Morales for some time, as evidenced by call-ups to friendlies against France and Slovenia back in November 2011. Morales has been called up multiple times since then, including this year's January camp, where he earned his first cap for the senior team in a friendly against Canada. Born in Berlin to Peruvian parents, Morales is eligible for the U.S. through his father, who served in the U.S. military. Germany may be a long shot at this point, but the 23-year-old has drawn strong interest from Peru over the years. Morales intrigues because of his skill on the ball and his versatility, as he's able to play defensive midfield and right back. Consistent playing time on the club level has mostly eluded him though, and Hertha's promotion to the Bundesliga next season will be a big test of his career progression.
Mikkel Diskerud, midfielder, Rosenborg
Diskerud has been an intriguing proposition for the U.S. program ever since then-U-20 coach Thomas Rongen discovered him playing for Stabaek in a tournament in 2008. The Norwegian-born midfielder has represented the United States at several levels, and is eligible through his Arizona-born mother. Though he's been capped three times at the senior level, the 22-year-old has yet to establish himself as a regular first-team choice, and has been consistently courted by the Norwegian program as a result. He's remained open to his birth country, but Diskerud has thus far rebuffed Norway's advances and appears ready to commit himself to the Stars and Stripes full-time. His service and creativity have never been in question, but if he can sharpen up his two-way game Diskerud could finally make his long-awaited breakthrough.
George John, defender, FC Dallas
John probably wouldn't be on this list if it weren't for injuries and a failed loan move to West Ham, both of which have put the kibosh on previous call-ups to the U.S. national team. John has also been called up by Greece in the past, which he is eligible to represent through his parents. To date, though, John has not been capped by either country. He's slipped a bit on the center back depth chart, but the 26-year-old has been playing well for FCD this season and would provide valuable depth for the United States should injuries or bad form strike during World Cup qualification. A call-up would also be a wise preemptive move to keep him away from Greece, which is in a strong position in UEFA World Cup qualification.
Shawn Parker, forward, Mainz 05
Parker is one of the top young talents in German soccer, and would represent a significant coup for the U.S. program should he ever change his allegiance. The 20-year-old began to see regular minutes in the Bundesliga this season and scored three goals in 15 appearances. Parker, born in Germany to a German mother and American serviceman father, has represented Germany at various youth levels and has rejected several advances by the U.S. program in the past. He has, though, admitted he's been in contact with Klinsmann in the past and hasn't ruled out playing for the Yanks in the future. Still, the German federation would be loathe to lose a player like Parker and, frankly, he's more talented than other players it has allowed to switch to the United States without a fight. In any case, the USA would be wise to at least check if the prospect of becoming a full senior international this summer could sway his opinion.
Aron Johannsson, forward, AZ
American fans thought their dream of Johannsson wearing a U.S. jersey was dead in the water in October, when the striker was called up for Iceland's World Cup qualifiers. An injury scuppered those plans, though, and once again put the spotlight on Johannsson's pending international decision. The 22-year-old was born in Alabama to Icelandic parents, and moved back to Iceland when he was three. His incredible goalscoring form for Danish club AGF Aarhus earned him a move to AZ Alkmaar, where he's expected to replace Jozy Altidore after the American moves on in the summer. Johannsson is still more likely to represent Iceland, but the United States can offer him something his home country likely never will: World Cup soccer. Iceland has never qualified for the World Cup (though it is actually in a decent position for 2014) or a European Championship.
John Anthony Brooks, defender, Hertha Berlin
Brooks is quite simply the best young prospect the United States has at any position right now. At age 20, he's established himself as a starter on a Hertha Berlin side that had the best defense in the 2. Bundesliga this season. The 6-foot-5 center back will make a decision on his international future soon, with Germany interested in adding him for the U-21 European Championships in June. Recently, USA U-20 coach Tab Ramos expressed optimism that Brooks would join his team for the U-20 World Cup in July. Timing for the Gold Cup could be a factor. The United States concludes the group stage of the U-20 World Cup on June 27, and the Gold Cup begins on July 9. Should the USA exit the U-20 World Cup at the group stage, it could allow Brooks to make the Gold Cup roster, or he could also be added after the Gold Cup group stage. It may be too complicated when also factoring in his club situation, but if Brooks somehow sees the field during the Gold Cup, it will be a massive win for the U.S. program.
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