What Does USA Gold Cup Victory Mean for 2014 World Cup Hopes?
The USA has entered into uncharted territory. The 2013 summer of soccer was almost perfect, with the national team collecting 11 of 12 possible victories, and save for a beat down imposed by Belgium in their opening game, have now won a national team-record 11 games in a row! Such success has seen the USA reclaim the Gold Cup trophy yesterday and suggests that this team is on the right track one year ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. So what do our prospects look like now for next summer’s tournament?
Well, to be frank, the Gold Cup victory doesn’t mean much, nor does this 11 game win streak. Yes, America did beat Germany, but this was against a full on “B” squad of the Germans, whose main forces were recovering following the all-German Champions League final. All the other matches featured opponents like Panama, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Cuba. Most of these teams are not at the caliber of World Cup opponents, so many will argue that the wins aren’t that legitimate.
However, the fact America was able to win each match does suggest that at least there is a strong focus in the side. Mexico crashed out of the Gold Cup and looks like a team in shambles. Just because the opposition may be weak does not mean they cannot beat you. So even though these 11 victories weren’t the most impressive, the fact that America has managed to win 11 straight games against any opposition (and in a competitive tournament) does bode well for the future.
The great thing about this streak has been watching the players succeed and come together. Before the Gold Cup, manager Jurgen Klinsmann used the “A” team and we saw a resurgence of striker Jozy Altidore, who notched 4 goals in 4 matches. That form looks to have cemented his place as the top striker. Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard also continued to show their leadership through good showings as well.
During the Gold Cup, the story was all about Landon Donovan, who took complete charge and has clearly won a place back in the first team, and likely the starting lineup. He won the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player with 5 goals and 7 assists, leading America in each game. Several other players on display who did well and could push for a spot in Brazil included Eddie Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Stuart Holden, and Brek Shea. Their spots will still be up for grabs in the coming year and their form will be heavily scrutinized as the World Cup approaches.
So what does it all mean for the USA? Clearly this success bodes very well for the upcoming World Cup and states that America can at least handle lesser opposition comfortably. The difficulty will be preparing for the major nations like England, Spain, and Brazil. As mentioned before, the Germany victory this summer was at home against a group of second stringers. The toughest test was the first match against Belgium, and the USA was beaten badly. I think a reasonable expectation for this team next summer is to progress to the knockout round, but anything beyond that is simply a bonus. Perhaps the USA will muster a major upset and reach the quarterfinals or even semifinal round, but until the USA can prove themselves by beating a top international team with everything on the line, any hopes of World Cup glory are merely delusional.