PORTLAND, Ore. — If you’re still thinking this US national team assembled for the CONCACAF Gold Cup is a roster of second-choice players, think again.
According to Jurgen Klinsmann, a good performance by any of the 23 players he has assembled could be the difference between a trip to Brazil next summer or watching the World Cup from the couch.
“I think it’s a very, very good team we’ve put together here for this Gold Cup and with a tremendous amount of experience and guys that know that this is a huge, huge opportunity,” the USMNT head coach told reporters on Sunday at JELD-WEN Field, where the US will open their Gold Cup against Belize on Tuesday (8 pm PT, Fox Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
With a heavy summer slate of World Cup qualifying wrapped up and the US now inches from a berth in Brazil, Klinsmann summoned a mostly alternate unit to compete for the Gold Cup, a tournament the US haven’t won since 2007. It’s a title the German manager wants badly to give his program a chance to return to the Confederations Cup (the winner of this tournament plays the winner of the 2015 edition in a one-off for that honor). But it doesn’t end there.
“It’s also one year away from the World Cup,” he continued. “So it’s about World Cup spots, it’s about proving to everyone we want to be No. 1 in CONCACAF.”
Klinsmann has been all about supplying opportunities to young players during his two years in charge of the national team, perhaps more so than his predecessors. The average age of his presumptive No. 1 center-back tandem for the senior team, for instance – Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler – is 25 years old.
But he’s also given prominent roles to veterans, such as DaMarcus Beasley and Herculez Gomez (both 31).
His 23-man roster for this Gold Cup features solid representation from both camps: everyone from 2002 World Cup veterans like Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and Beasley all the way down to players like Corey Ashe, Tony Beltran, Jack McInerney, Will Bruin and Mix Diskerud, who have a combined seven caps between them.
The level of international experience matters little to Klinsmann as he zeroes in on who he trusts for a possible trip to Brazil in 12 months’ time.
“At the end of the day, it’s down to quality, it’s down to performance,” he said. “So if he’s now 30 or 21, I don’t really care. It’s the quality at the end of the day which will decide who goes to the World Cup. Therefore, we want to give everybody a chance and I think we’ve shown that over the last two years, and then it’s all down to the players.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.