The United States was predicted to finish first in Group C of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup this year. After all, none of Group C's other members were ranked higher than 67th (Panama) in FIFA's May rankings, giving the U.S. three games to prove that the blowout loss to Spain was a mishap. An easy quarterfinal matchup was the common expectation, as neither Canada, Panama nor Guadeloupe was going to threaten the Yanks.
Yet, heading into the quarterfinals after group play, the U.S. has been more than just threatened. Each U.S. contest has seen the Americans struggle mightily for lengthy periods, and these trials resulted in two underwhelming wins and a shocking loss to Panama.
The consequence of finishing second in the group is a date with a Jamaican squad that has been nothing short of brilliant in group play—not the reward the U.S. had hoped for. The Reggae Boyz cruised by their three Group B counterparts, tallying seven goals while allowing none.
Are the Americans even the favorite anymore? They certainly have not performed like Jamaica has. Easy scoring opportunities have been wasted, the midfield has been inconsistent, and the defense has appeared to be resting on their heels more than was expected.
The most noticeable shortcomings the U.S. has dealt with are the lack of creativity, finishing and quality depth. Four U.S. players who are currently unavailable could have made significant contributions in these regards, not only in the Gold Cup, but against Spain.
The guys who have been most sorely missed are Stu Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Charlie Davies and Timmy Chandler. During a time in which the U.S. has been mediocre at best, each of these player’s talents could be utilized to bolster the starting lineup or provide some punch off the bench.
Of the four, Holden would have been the most likely to start. His all-around midfield game has seen wondrous gains in the last year as he helped his club Bolton rise to seventh in the EPL before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Despite his missing the last two months of the club season, he was named Bolton’s player of the year.
With Holden available the U.S. would have been able to employ the 4-2-3-1 formation, using Holden as an attacking midfielder. Or, given Holden’s ambidexterity and crossing ability, he could play on the wing, which would allow either Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan to move into a more central attacking role.
An injury just before the Spain friendly scratched Feilhaber from the roster this summer. Feilhaber would not have cracked the starting lineup, but his creativity and his ability to calmly maneuver downfield with the ball at his feet makes him a super-sub that the U.S. has lacked.
Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan have seen second-half playing time in this tournament, but neither has the international pedigree that Feilhaber carries nor has either had a major impact on the team’s play thus far. And no one can forget Feilhaber’s superb volley against Mexico in 2007 that secured the U.S. the title.
Davies really should have been selected for this tournament. Although he is still in the process of returning to form, his natural abilities earn him a spot on the roster at least. Davies may not be as fast as he was before his horrible car accident, but he still can fly. His coming-out in the 2009 Confederations Cup showed U.S. fans that he has a nose for the ball and can find ways to score and beat defenders. Was Wondolowski really a better option?
Who is the U.S. team missing the most?
Chandler seemingly came from nowhere this March when he played in the second half of a friendly against Argentina. He did not fail to impress. He showed excellent pace on the ball, sent dangerous crosses into Argentina’s box, and did not allow Argentina’s offensive prowess to bother him one bit.
Chandler’s club, Nuremburg, did not want him playing in the Gold Cup after Chandler had been bothered by a couple injuries and had played considerable minutes in the past four months. Chandler may have not started in front of Steve Cherundolo, but certainly he would have found playing time and would have provided much-needed depth.
The deficiency of these four players has hurt the U.S. this summer. Fans and soccer pundits alike are calling for the head of Bob Bradley after a miserable June so far; but in Bradley’s defense, the U.S. does not have its best eleven on the field, nor does it have substitutes that it can rely on to spark the team when fatigue sets in.
However, Bradley will have to continue to examine his list of 23, and mix and match with what he has because Holden, Feilhaber, Davies and Chandler are not walking out onto RFK’s pitch Sunday against Jamaica.