CHICAGO – Four weeks after the US national team convenes next summer ahead of the World Cup in Brazil – assuming they qualify, of course – the real games will just be starting.
So as the Americans traveled from city to city during this month's Gold Cup, which ends with Sunday's final in Chicago against Panama (4 pm ET, Fox, UniMas, Univision Deportes), coach Jurgen Klinsmann made it clear that traveling, training and playing with the national team for almost a month was an important step – but that it was also just the beginning.
“In a World Cup, this is actually the time you start the tournament,” Klinsmann said. “You go another four weeks. This needs to be planted in the mindset. They need to be mentally ready for that. Another four weeks on the road, another every three, four days [in between] games. We want to experience that next summer, but this is what the real stage is about. That's why we try to introduce certain elements to them as early as possible, so they know there's always the next one waiting for you.”
And although the term “B” team has been thrown around with this squad, a handful of players from the Gold Cup team with relatively little experience will almost certainly show up on the World Cup roster, taking the route Stuart Holden and Clarence Goodson did to South Africa after making names for themselves in the 2009 edition.
Matt Besler is close to a shoo-in at this point after winning the starting center back spot alongside Omar Gonzalez in the US’ past four World Cup qualifiers, including three wins and a 0-0 tie at Azteca Stadium in Mexico. But he entered the tournament with just eight caps under his belt, meaning any time he steps onto the field with the US is a learning experience.
“Any international game is going to help prepare you for qualifiers and for World Cup games, especially in my position,” Besler said. “I haven't played a lot. I don't have a ton of games under my belt, so this tournament is a great chance for me to get experience.”
Mikkel Diskerud is more of a long shot than Besler, the product of a crowded central midfield in which there are a limited number of spots and a glut of qualified candidates.
And he isn't just learning what playing in an international tournament entails, either. Diskerud is still wrapping his mind around the manner in which Americans approach the game. The 22-year-old was cap-tied to the US during this tournament after spending his career in Norway, where he currently plays for Rosenborg, spurning the opportunity to play for the country of his birth.
“I've learned a lot. I'm learning from a great group of guys how they play soccer in the US,” he said. “Of course, this is an opportunity for guys to show themselves and what they can contribute.”
And while some may get the chance to contribute in Brazil, others will return to their home clubs from Gold Cup duty with experience applicable down the line, even if it’s not at the 2014 World Cup.
“The Gold Cup is a wonderful opportunity for the younger players to grow, to mature, to experience the elements of the game on this level,” Klinsmann said. “Therefore it was important that we brought in guys like Brek Shea, Joe Corona, Sean Johnson and other ones. That they go through now one game at a time, that they go through now one game at a time and go through those experiences and improve.”