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From Gold Cup to World Cup?

The name DaMarcus Beasley has been around the National Teams for so long it’s hard to remember a time when he wasn’t a part of the program. One of the darlings of the U.S. team in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, people forget that six months prior the 20-year-old had barely scratched the surface with the senior team and hold only appeared in one half of one qualifier. And then came the 2002 Gold Cup.

Scoring the game-winning goal in the 92nd minute of the opening group game 2-1 win against Korea Republic – his first international strike – Beasley used his performance in that tournament to catapult onto the World Cup roster.

His example is one of many that demonstrate how critical the Gold Cup can be for a player’s shot at making a World Cup in the year prior to the tournament. Sometimes it’s an up-and-comer proving himself, and in other cases veterans making their case one more time.

Going back to 2002, when the United States won the event for the second time, a young Pablo Mastroeni had only two previous appearances for the MNT and had not played a single qualifier on the road to Korea/Japan. On June 5, he started in central midfield in the historic 3-2 win against fourth-ranked Portugal.

Those two weren’t the only ones that took advantage of the opportunity. Both veterans Frankie Hejduk and Eddie Lewis had been anchored to the bench with their club teams and their time with the National Team suffered. In 2001, Hejduk made only one appearance under Bruce Arena, and Lewis just two.  By the time the team reached Seoul, Frankie was the starting left back, and we all remember a certain cross from Lewis to a streaking Landon Donovan against Mexico…

In the 2005 edition of the tournament, center back Oguchi Onyewu – yet to be of “stare down fame” – scored his first international goal in lifting the U.S. to a 2-1 win against Honduras in the semifinal. Making a total of four appearances, including the championship match, Gooch started the next two qualifiers and all three matches in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Four years later, Stuart Holden made his debut for the National Team during the 2009 Gold Cup. He scored his first career goal in the opening day 4-0 win against Grenada, then added the tying goal in the 92nd minute to lift the U.S. to a 2-2 draw against Haiti. Clarence Goodson had only two previous caps for the USA prior to the tournament, and after four appearances and the game-winning goal against Honduras in the semifinal he had launched his trajectory towards South Africa.

Both were called up to the squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and while Goodson didn’t crack the lineup, Holden helped the U.S. grind out a 1-1 draw against England in the opening game of the tournament.

As this year’s Gold Cup approaches, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stated that there are two goals: to win the tournament, and to give an opportunity for players to “make their case.” If history repeats itself, there is no doubt that for some players on this roster the road to Brazil will be paved in the next 28 days.