KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The United States don’t have to worry about their place in the Gold Cup quarterfinals. Group A’s top spot is theirs, no matter what happens on Monday night against Panama (9:30 pm ET; Fox Sports 1, UniMas, UDN in the US; SN World/360 in Canada).
At this point in the tournament, with a third-place finisher from Group B or C waiting for an unenviable quarterfinal matchup, nobody would blame the Americans if they rested a few heavy legs ahead of the knockout stage.
Sure enough, Jurgen Klinsmann said on Sunday that the USMNT will continue to employ a “rotational system” to keep players from succumbing to the “tricky situation” that is a game every three days in the heat of an American summer.
Of course, expectations won’t change, no matter who takes the field at Sporting Park.
“We want to finish off the group in the right way, and that means three points,” Klinsmann said Sunday night in his pregame press conference. “…We know Panama is under pressure to get a result, at least a tie, and probably they need a win. Knowing that, it’s going to be another grind. It’s going to be another fight. We are ready for it.”
Some more than others.
Klinsmann said Graham Zusi's status is in question after taking a knock against Haiti, an injury that kept him out of full training on Sunday. Alejandro Bedoya and Alfredo Morales haven’t played yet, but could appear against Panama.
Jozy Altidore, meanwhile, struggled to make an impact against Honduras and Haiti as he continues to work himself into form following a hamstring injury that threatened to keep him out of the tournament altogether.
On Monday, Klinsmann acknowledged that Altidore’s most recent performances left something to be desired, but was quick to point out the potential for production should the Toronto FC man get back into the swing of things as the tournament progresses.
“He’s the type of player that can always make a difference, that has to work himself into a rhythm,” Klinsmann said. “He obviously knows his body the best.… That’s what we have to hope, giving him minutes and a chance to come through and pick up a higher tempo and a higher pace.”
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With Zusi’s status up in the air, fans in Kansas City face a scenario in which no Sporting KC players take the field in front of their hometown faithful. That’s because central defender Matt Besler, a constant for Klinsmann at the World Cup, will watch from afar, though that could change in the knockout stages should the US shuffle the deck and bring in new faces from the 30-man provisional roster.
"[Matt] had to swallow the pill that he's not in the 23 right now," Klinsmann said. "We talked through that. We've been in touch with each other. It's no problem at all.
"It's a constant competition going on in our extended squad. If you look at the two left center backs with John Brooks, who made a huge, huge step in the last year, and also Tim Ream, who played a tremendous season with Bolton, we felt like both deserved to be in here at the expense of Matt for right now. We’ll see after the game what we’re going to do.”
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Benny Feilhaber’s status with the national team, meanwhile, is far more cut and dry.
Despite calls for the Sporting KC No. 10’s inclusion with the national team based on MVP-caliber play in MLS, Klinsmann said the numbers game doesn’t bode well for Feilhaber.
“It’s a simple answer,” Klinsmann said. “There are other ones ahead of him.”