The 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup is upon us, and teams and players alike are looking to make an impact on this year’s games. The tournament is important not only as the regional championship, but also because it serves as the entrance to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil. The Gold Cup has grown to be the region’s most anticipated soccer event, drawing large crowds such as the 85,000 fans who watched both quarterfinal games at Cowboys Stadium in 2009.
With such notoriety, the Gold Cup has become an important tournament for developing players, as they are able to showcase their skills in a high-pressure competitive atmosphere. The Gold Cup provides the platform for these players to establish their positions in the national team for future years. Coaches are able to judge fresh talent and analyze how new players can be integrated into the team dynamic.
“We believe that in the past, these tournaments lay a lot of good groundwork for our future,” said head coach Bob Bradley.
“We get to know guys, guys get a good feel for how things work and so we think that when you look at how things develop over a four-year cycle, those times where you’re together for four weeks or longer, they’re so important for the whole process.”
In the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, eyes will be on this year’s newer players, including Tim Ream and Chris Wondolowski. Ream is a 23-year-old defender for the New York Red Bulls and a finalist for the 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year Award. In November of last year, he earned a spot on the USA’s 18-man roster that defeated South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup. The Saint Louis University grad currently has four caps with the U.S. National Team, including a start in the Gold Cup opener on June 7 against Canada.
“It’s definitely fun being a young guy and being able to learn from the rest of the players,” said Ream. “It’s one of those tournaments where if you play well and play a lot, you can get a jump start in your career. Obviously you are playing nationally televised games, and scouts from all over the world are watching. It’s a launch point to set you up for many good years to come in, not only the club scene, but with the national team as well. You can solidify your spot for future years.”
Chris Wondolowski joins Ream on the 2011 Gold Cup roster as another player looking to increase his standing with the national team. In the Gold Cup opener, Wondolowski came on as a substitute for Juan Agudelo in the 65th minute. Wondolowski, who earned his first call up to the national team this January, enjoyed a stellar performance last year with the San Jose Earthquakes, leading MLS in scoring with 18 goals to capture the Golden Boot and a spot on the MLS Best XI. The forward is excited at the opportunity to translate his success from the club scene to the national team.
“Being named to the U.S. National Team is an incredible honor and I’m excited to get to work with the guys,” said Wondolowski, who also made his Gold Cup debut against Canada along with Ream. “This is a dream come true to get out there and represent my country in an elite competition like the Gold Cup.”
With coaches, their country, and the media watching, Ream and Wondolowski can showcase their talents and earn a place in the pool for future competitions. As the stories of these veterans demonstrate, a good performance in the Gold Cup can go a long way.
Stuart Holden remembers his experience at the 2009 Gold Cup where he was named to the squad at the age of 23. He earned his first cap and scored his first international goal in the USA’s opening game against Grenada.
“The Gold Cup was my first opportunity to get around the coaches and show them what I could do on a daily basis,” remembered Holden. “It’s important to make an impact.”
At the completion of the tournament, Holden boasted two goals and three assists along with a selection to the Gold Cup All-Tournament Team. He was able to translate his success to World Cup qualifiers where he was featured in all five games during the second half of the final round of the qualifiers. Holden was also eventually selected to the 23-man roster for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and helped seal the 1-1 draw against England in the USA’s opener.
“It goes without saying that the Gold Cup kick-started my career because prior to it, I hadn’t been in with the team once,” said Holden. “I had a pretty good Gold Cup, personally, and the team did as well aside from the final. I was then called in straight after that for my first friendly and got a cap with the team there. Eventually, I went to the World Cup.”
Other Notable Players:
- Jonathan Bornstein played in the 2007 Gold Cup Tournament at the age of 22 and started in all five games, including the final against Mexico. Bornstein became one of seven players to make more than ten appearances in their first calendar year with the national team after earning his first cap in January of 2007. In a World Cup qualifier in 2009, Bornstein headed in the equalizing goal in injury time against Costa Rica to earn an emotional victory that led to the U.S. securing first place in the final round qualifying group for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He started in two games at the World Cup, including the sensational 1-0 victory against Algeria.
- Michael Bradley also competed at the 2007 Gold Cup, his first international tournament. Bradley was featured in the five Gold Cup games, including four as a starter, leading up to the final match. The following year, he tied for team lead in starts and finished second on the team in minutes played. He played in the 2009 Confederations Cup and numerous World Cup qualifiers, which earned him a solid position at the 2010 World Cup where he played every minute of every game. Bradley scored the exciting game-tying goal in the 82nd minute of a 2-2 draw with Slovenia.
- Jimmy Conrad debuted with the U.S. National Team at the age of 28 in the 2005 Gold Cup. He earned his first international cap in the U.S. opener against Cuba and led the team in minutes played in the USA’s championship run as one of only three players to appear in all six matches. Only 11 months later, Conrad stared against Italy in the 2006 FIFA World Cup where the U.S. drew 1-1 with the eventual champions.
- Clint Dempsey joined Conrad at the 2005 Gold Cup at age 22. He played in four matches to help the U.S. win its third title and scored the USA’s first goal of the tournament against Cuba. He played in six qualifying games that year and was selected to the 2006 World Cup squad in Germany. He started against both Italy and Ghana and was the only U.S. player to score in the tournament.
- Clarence Goodson was selected to the 2009 Gold Cup team where he played every game, including three as a starter. He scored his first international goal in the semifinal match against Honduras and was selected to the All-Tournament Team. Goodson’s stock continued to rise with World Cup qualifier appearances and a place on the 2010 roster to South Africa.
- Benny Feilhaber was selected to the 2007 Gold Cup at the age of 22 and made five appearances throughout the tournament. He seized his opportunity when he volleyed home the dramatic game-winner in the final match versus Mexico to earn the USA their fourth Gold Cup title. He went on to become one of two players to appear in World Cup qualifying, the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup in 2009 for the U.S. National Team. In South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he appeared in three of four matches. Feilhaber was named to the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup squad but was forced to withdraw due to injury.
- Oguchi Onyewu only had three caps with the national team before entering the 2005 Gold Cup. In this tournament, he scored the extra time winner on a dramatic header in the semifinals against Honduras to send the U.S. to the final match. He was recognized for his performance by being voted to the tournament’s best XI. Onyewu cemented his position on the national team with five starts in World Cup qualifiers, and he appeared in all three group games for the U.S. in the 2006 World Cup.
Each of these players used the CONCACAF Gold Cup as the platform to earn respect at the international level. They continued to play big games, score important goals and contribute overall to U.S. Soccer’s success. Tim Ream and Chris Wondolowski are hoping to take a similar step at this year’s 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.