Armchair Analyst: Finding new talent at the Gold Cup

Brice Jovial, Celso Borges and Armando Cooper

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If, like most of our readers, you’re American or Canadian, then you’re probably something less than inspired by the first couple of weeks of the Gold Cup. For our hardcore Yank fans, watching the group stage was akin to going to the doctor’s and finding out you need a heart transplant.

For our Canuck brethren, it was more like going to the morgue to identify a corpse.

But hey, that’s soccer. Fandom is 90 percent misery, nine percent relief and one percent pure joy. That chance at the one percent makes the other 99 worth it.

Lost in your torment, aching for that one percent, you probably missed some good soccer from the rest of the tournament. You may have been preoccupied with the fate of your particular national team over the past few weeks, but your favorite MLS team’s coaches have been immersed in their jobs: scouting the lesser-known talents from the rest of CONCACAF.

(“Lesser-known” means we’re not going to be mentioning anyone from the US, Canadian or Mexican national teams, or guys like Bryan Ruiz, who rates a “duh!” on the “Wouldn’t he be great in MLS?” scale).

Here’s a list of three players who will have caught the eye, and where they may fit in the league:

TARGET: Celso Borges, MF

The Costa Rican center midfielder is hardly an unknown. He was regarded as one of the more promising players in the 2005 U-17 World Cup and has gone on to a successful pro career, first with Deportivo Saprissa and now with Fredrikstad FK in Norway.

You may also remember him from the absolute whuppin’ los Ticos put on the US during World Cup qualifying back in 2009 in San José, Costa Rica. He scored the second goal in a 3-1 rout that wasn’t as close as the score line indicated, and personally stomped a mudhole in a three-man US midfield of Michael Bradley, José Torres and Pablo Mastroeni.

Borges is big (6-foot-1) and has a nose for the goal, but isn’t a pure enganche. He’s more of a string-puller who will crash the box late, getting his goals on pull-backs and, occasionally, on the end of set-pieces. Think of him as the Costa Rican Philip Cocu.

Borges is in the last six months of his contract, and has said he won’t be re-signing with Fredrikstad.

Best fit: Borges was simply made for the Houston Dynamo, a team that’s already admitted it's scouting the the Gold Cup. He’d be able to do everything Geoff Cameron’s already doing in his central midfield role and add some goal-scoring punch, to boot.

He’d also allow Cameron to drop to central defense — the spot he’s destined to play on the international level eventually — giving Houston an extra dimension when building out of the back.

Other fits: Really, there’s not a team in the league that wouldn’t be thrilled to have Borges. But given style-of-play issues and personnel on hand, Chicago and Philadelphia are the two that make the most sense.

TARGET: Armando Cooper, MF

The Panamanian, who plays for Árabe Unido in his home nation, has been called both a “winger” and an “attacker,” but the reality is that there’s no English word for his position.

We’ll turn to Spanish, then, and tag Cooper as a “carrilero.” He’s a midfielder who plays centrally on defense, but offensively bursts to the wing, thus providing compactness on one side of the ball and width on the other. Kind of a headless chicken of doom.

Will Johnson for Real Salt Lake is a good MLS example of this. He covers a ton of ground defensively, then flares toward the touchline when the Claret-and-Cobalt go forward. Antonio Valencia often played a similar role for Manchester United this past season.

Cooper’s not a game-breaker in and of himself, but he’s the type of worker bee that all good teams need. He says he nearly joined the Red Bulls this offseason, and told MLSsoccer.com that he’d be happy with a spot on any MLS roster.

Best fit: Toronto FC desperately need someone in their laconic midfield who can outwork the opposition. Cooper’s motor never stops, and his versatility is just what the Reds require to make their three-man squad work. Put him with Julian de Guzman and Tony Tchani, and TFC may finally be in business — especially when it comes to protecting their porous back line.

Offensively, Cooper would let Maicon Santos stay narrow on the right side of the front-three, a spot the Brazilian has yet to play.

Other fits: Sporting KC and Chivas USA could both use Cooper’s services.

TARGET: Brice Jovial, F

What were the odds that the best player in Group C would come from Guadeloupe? They had to have been long. But if anybody took them, they got paid.

Jovial — who scored 11 goals for Le Harve in the French second flight this past year — was the star of the group. The tiny Frenchman (he was born in Paris, but is of Guadeloupian descent) played the first two games for les Gwada Boys and got both their goals. In 133 minutes, all but three of which came down a man, he hectored both the Panamanian and Canadian defenses, and American fans should count themselves lucky that he was kept on the bench for game three.

Jovial is basically a Luke Rodgers clone with a touch more technical skill. He’s short, but he’s built like a bull and simply understands that if you make hard, dangerous runs, you’ll get goals.

Best fit: If Jovial played for the LA Galaxy, he’d score roughly 9,000 goals (give or take a few). LA’s midfield puts about five chances a game on a platter, and Jovial would be there to take advantage of them. He’d also stretch defenses, giving Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juninho more room to use.

Other fits: The Portland Timbers, New England Revolution and Chivas USA all need a forward to start scoring. Badly. Jovial would be a great fit for any of those teams.

Matthew Doyle can be reached for comment at matdoyle76@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @MLS_Analyst.