Go ahead and call it the Redeem Team. Because five years after USA Basketball sent the biggest NBA names it could round up to the Beijing Olympics to restore its reputation on the international scene, this team assembled by US Soccer has its own point to prove.
The enterprise, this time, is as much individual as it is collective, however. With a handful of former national team starters who have since tumbled down the depth chart for myriad reasons on the squad list released on Thursday, this team will crave redemption.
When the USA opens its tournament against Belize in Portland on July 9, followed by July 13 and 16 group games with Cuba and Costa (all live on FOX Soccer ), Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres and Oguchi Onyewu are all likely to feature.
Cue the bad 2010-called-and-wants-its-lineup-back jokes.
Yet 2010 was when the last World Cup was held. And the biennial Gold Cup - technically taking place in the so-called "off year" this time, when it coincides with World Cup qualifying and the A-team regulars don't typically participate - now represents the last major camp ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. For the latter, the USA has nigh on qualified, and so now the jostle for roster places commences.
Historically, the Gold Cup has provided an excellent opportunity to win a spot for those on the fringes. The 2001 Gold Cup saw DaMarcus Beasley and Pablo Mastroeni break out and Frankie Hejduk and Eddie Lewis earn back their spots. All were instrumental at the 2002 World Cup. In 2005, Oguchi Onyewu earned a job for the big dance in Germany a year later. And in 2009, Stuart Holden made his debut. Had he not gotten badly injured in March 2010, he'd have likely started or at least played a prominent role in South Africa a few months on.
"The players that are representing us in this Gold Cup," said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "They clearly know that this is a huge opportunity to prove their value and their case to the coaching staff one year prior to the World Cup."
"The door is always open; you never shut the door in soccer to players, no matter what difficult stretch they are going through with their club teams," added Klinsmann. "If you look at Oguchi Onyewu or Michael Parkhurst or Stuart Holden ... [t]hings didn't go the way they wished over the last season or months, but there is the opportunity."
Midfielders Alejandro Bedoya, who starred at the 2011 Gold Cup, and Jose Torres will hope to play their way back into the picture after a dramatic drop-off in their national team minutes in the last two years. So too will second- or third-stringers like defenders Edgar Castillo, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco Fiscal and Parkhurst; midfielder Kyle Beckerman; and striker Chris Wondolowski.
Firmly entrenched senior teamers like Beasley, Herculez Gomez and the aforementioned Donovan, who hasn't played for his country since taking a 4-month sabbatical from the sport this winter, will also participate.
Donovan's inclusion on a B-team is somewhat unusual, given that he's the program's all-time leading goal-scorer and long-time icon. It speaks to the constant striving Klinsmann expects from his players, rather than letting anybody coast on prior performance. "We have all respect for what he has done in the past," said Klinsmann. "But sports are about the present and about the future, and that's what we are building on."
And with an eye on that future, Klinsmann, who has demonstrated his willingness to lean heavily on young players, called in several inexperienced players - defenders Corey Ashe and Tony Beltran; midfielders Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud and Joshua Gatt; and forwards Will Bruin and Jack McInerney.
Clearly, this roster is put together with A-team depth in mind. Some old regulars will get a chance to prove that they still belong. And the upstarts will try to show their added value. But it's plain to see that this team was equally designed to optimize its chance of winning the 2013 edition of our confederation's championship after arch-rivals Mexico won in 2011 and 2009, humiliating the Americans in both finals.
"We are excited about a roster for the Gold Cup that really has a shot of winning it," said Klinsmann. Mexico's squad is heavily diluted, more so than the American side.
So there is honor to be reclaimed. And, for the first time, a ticket into the playoff for the 2017 Confederations Cup to be won - the other will go to the Gold Cup winner in 2015. This World Cup tune-up tournament is invaluable in preparations for the real thing the next year, as evidenced by the benefits the USA drew from it the last time around. Preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, then, sort of begin July 9 as well.
"You want to win a confederation competition, which is a 50 percent ticket to the Confederations Cup in Russia," Klinsmann said. "We don't want to watch the Confederations Cup on TV anymore; we want to be there."
Following the group stage, Klinsmann will have a chance to make four roster changes heading into the quarterfinals, when the MLS-based players he used in three World Cup qualifiers in June - defenders Brad Evans, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez; midfielders Graham Zusi and Brad Davis; and forward Eddie Johnson - will be available to him.
"We have an agreement [with MLS] that before the last few games we can switch a maximum of four players," confirmed Klinsmann. "Who those guys will be, it depends on how things are going. There's nothing set in stone yet."
The Americans will begin the Gold Cup with a strong roster. And, should they choose, they can get stronger yet. And given their tall ambitions for this tournament, that's just as well.
Here is the complete roster:
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Oguchi Onyewu (Malaga), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsinborg), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Joshua Gatt (Molde FK), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jose Torres (Tigres)
Forwards: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Club Tijuana), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)