The Gold Cup comes into focus now that World Cup qualifying is taking a break, and here are the players with the most to gain in the competition.If there was anything learned from the United States' results in the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal, it's that Jurgen Klinsmann has found a groove with the current personnel that he has at his disposal.
After all, why mess up a good thing when you're in first place, securing 13 out of an available 18 points?
For Landon Donovan, Joe Corona or young rising starlet Jack MacInerney, strong performances in the Gold Cup could be the difference between taking part in next year's World Cup in Brazil or watching the world's greatest sporting event from home. Considering that teams are only allowed to bring 23 players and the current strength of Klinsmann's rotation, there are only maybe five spots left up for grabs.
Here are five players who stand to benefit from this summer's Gold Cup:
Landon Donovan - LA Galaxy forward - 31 years old: Is he hungry or not? Everyone will find out on July 5 in San Diego when the United States faces Guatemala in a tune-up friendly. Speaking to Donovan a month ago, he seemed to get the message that Klinsmann is trying to convey. Despite his legendary status with the Yanks, he has to earn his spot like everyone else.
Between declining call ups to focus on the Galaxy's first legit chance to win a title in years in 2011 (which, to be fair, is reasonable) to contemplating retirement for five months (maybe that was a bit drawn out), Donovan's commitment has been questioned. If he shows that he's driven, Klinsmann will likely keep him for the tournament and see how he performs. If not, Donovan might be an early cut.
Joe Corona - Club Tijuana attacking midfielder - 23 years old: When Corona declared that he'd play for the U.S. national team in 2011, there were high expectations placed on the youngster due to his potential. Two years later, Corona hasn't been given much opportunity to show his quality to Klinsmann. The German coach initially denied that the Tijuana midfielder would be part of his Gold Cup plans but has since backtracked.
This is a big tournament for Corona. All it takes is a few strong performances and he can be this cycle's Stuart Holden, who emerged in the 2009 tournament and became coveted by English Premiership sides.
Mix Diskerud - Rosenborg midfielder - 22 years old: After debating between his nationalities (he is also eligible for Norway), Diskerud decided to stick it out with the USA. There's been no question over Diskerud's talent. He's a astute playmaker who makes dangerous runs into the box. The problem is: Where does he fit?
His lack of size and below-par marking skills make him a poor choice in central midfield, where Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones are both top two-way players. He doesn't have the speed to play out wide and he can't play behind the striker since that's where Clint Dempsey plays.
This summer's tournament provides Diskerud with a chance to show Klinsmann that he's more versatile than what's been shown.
Jack McInerney - Philadelphia Union forward - 20 years old: The American Chicharito, as dubbed by MLSSoccer.com, has set MLS alight this year and here's a chance for Jack Mac to show that he's a capable player on the international level. Top scorers in MLS have had issues transitioning to the U.S. setup in the past, as evidenced by Chris Wondolowski and Taylor Twellman.
So far, McInerney has shown that he can be lethal in the box but is he a player who is too reliant on service in that area? We'll find out in July.
Brek Shea - Stoke winger - 23 years old: Once considered the next American with star potential, Shea has spent the past two years trying to recover from injuries and find a fit at his new club Stoke.
Shea pulled out of June's qualifiers to have more time to recover and hopefully he'll be healthy enough to be a factor in this year's Gold Cup. Klinsmann rated Shea highly upon his arrival in 2011. Let's see if the former FC Dallas star can prove his worth.
Here are players out of luck:
Carlos Bocanegra/Oguchi Oneywu: While Oneywu has been out of U.S. rotation for a bit, Bocanegra is a victim of circumstance.
The emergence of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, along with the development of Geoff Cameron, has left the former U.S. captain in a precarious situation. His unsuccessful loan at Racing Santander leaves him with a difficult choice.
Does he stick with Rangers, the best club situation he has had despite being stuck in Scotland's third division, or will he find a good fit in MLS or Mexico that prolongs his international career? Tough choices for the 34-year-old ahead.
Chris Wondolowski: Wondolowski has scored 69 goals for the San Jose Earthquakes over the past four years. If only his international production was on par.
In nine appearances for the Stars and Stripes, Wondolowski is scoreless for the U.S. men's team. The emergence of Eddie Johnson hasn't helped his cause. Despite being a two-time MLS Golden Boot winner, it looks likely that Wondo won't have much of a chance to make the World Cup roster even if he has a strong tournament.
Stuart Holden: Holden's recovery from two severe injuries is inspiring, but is that enough to lock one of final five spots to go to Brazil? Probably unlikely.
It's hard to rule out any athlete, but Holden's position at central midfield is arguably the deepest spot on the Stars and Stripes. There's Bradley, Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Danny Williams, Maurice Edu, and Mix Diskerud in that spot, all players who haven't dealt the severe injuries that Holden has over the past few years.
Not saying that Holden has no shot at Brazil, but, realistically speaking, he's a long shot.
Alejandro Bedoya: In order for Bedoya to be seriously considered for a potential World Cup spot, he'll have to show that he's better than any of the current options on the wing. Considering how the stacked the U.S midfield is, it's unclear that he'll have the best chance to prove himself in this year's competition.
It blows to be a Blue Samurai right now: After taking a 2-0 advantage against Italy, Japan had the chance to send a message in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Then reality hit. Italy rallied and won the game on a great 4-3 classic.
Though the Conferderations Cup might not mean much to Spain, Brazil and Italy, for growing soccer nations like Japan, success in the tournament could spark momentum leading into the World Cup . . . just ask the USA.
Kanye West's Yeezus is awesome: New Slaves and Send It Up are on heavy rotation on my Spotify Bike Mix, which I use when working out.
NBA Finals Game 7: The game certainly lived up to expectations as it went back and forth to the final buzzer. I feel sorry for Tim Duncan, who in the final two minutes missed a point-blank chance to help Spurs finally equalize with the Heat leading 90-88.
It'll be interesting to see if this is his swan song. Hopefully not.
What To Watch:
Italy vs Brazil - Confederations Cup - June 22, 3:30 ET ESPN: In the biggest match of the Confederations Cup group stage, both sides are batting to avoid Spain in the second round. The Azzuri has looked shaky, as they could have lost to both Mexico and Japan, meaning it's very likely that Brazil will avoid La Roja.
Prediction: Brazil 3-1 Italy
Nigeria vs Spain - Confederations Cup - June 23, 3:00 ET ESPN: Nigeria faces a tough task as Uruguay is the odds-on favorite to advance to the next after beating the Super Eages in the previous matchday. Still, Spain has shown in instances that it can be vulnerable. Despite securing six points from its first two matches, Spain could be in trouble if Nigeria gives a performance for the ages.
Prediction: Spain 2-1 Nigeria
Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls - June 23, 5:00 ET ESPN: Will Jack McInerney keep up his goalscoring exploits against an inconsistent Red Bulls back line? There will be plenty to debate as the Union host one of their Northeastern rivals.
Prediction: Union 1-1 Red Bulls
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