Gold Cup 2011 Previews: United States Caught Between Young And Old

After a World Cup, most countries like to begin ushering out the older players who will be too old to play in the next World Cup, while working in young players just ready to make an impact on the international stage. The international calendar doesn't really allow for that though. A year after the World Cup teams are in qualification for their confederation championship tournament or playing in their confederation championship tournament.

In the case of the United States, it is playing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and they are the perfect example of a team who could use some time to make the transition from old to young. Whether it is at the back or up top, the U.S. has several areas where they are either too young or too old and it might do them in this summer.

For years now, the U.S. has struggled to find a competent striker. Brian McBride was their last top striker and he was never a prolific goal scorer, just one who did a little bit of everything. Since then, Jozy Altidore has been the Americans' top option, but that is largely because there isn't been another option. Eddie Johnson? Pass. Robbie Findley? Endlines beware. Charlie Davies? Maybe one day again. 

Five years later and the U.S. is right where they were after the 2006 World Cup. They are without a striker. Altidore is still hanging around, recent lack of production be damned, but even he is still just 21 years old. With Altidore in a long plateau, the real hope is Juan Agudelo. The 18-year-old has two goals in four national team appearances so far, but he's not a regular starter at his club and for all his exciting potential, he is undoubtedly raw. Unfortunately for the U.S, too young.

At the back, there is the too old issue. For all the problems the U.S. had finishing chances in the last few years, their defense was worse. They gave up the most goals of any World Cup team in CONCACAF qualifying and five more at the World Cup. Even so, the U.S. has many of the same players at the back that they had in the last few years. Carlos Bocanegra is a 32-year-old who is the team's best option at both left back and center back, more a statement on the pool of players than it is Bocanegra himself. Steve Cherundolo is also 32 years old and Oguchi Onyewu is a 29-year-old still recovering from a gruesome knee injury.

The best hope to slide in for the U.S. at the back? Clarence Goodson is playing very well and actually is at a good age, but while he has a decent number of caps, many of those were with or against weakened teams. Tim Ream is also an option, but he falls into the inexperienced, too young category. The same is true of Eric Lichaj, who might be the best option to replace aging players at both fullback positions. Ah, youth.

The midfield is one area of strength for the U.S. and not coincidentally, the one area where the majority of the players are in their prime. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu have also played internationally and for their European clubs in big matches giving the Americans options in the center. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey remain the two best U.S. players and where there is youth or inexperience, it comes in Alejandro Bedoya and Freddy Adu, both of whom would be used as late subs to provide a spark, sometimes youth can actually be good for.

If the U.S. is to reclaim their crown as CONCACAF champions, they'll have to do it in the midfield. It is undoubtedly the team strength and frankly, the one place where they aren't dogged by the too old and too young problem. A strong midfield might not be enough as the issues at the back and up top might do them in regardless of their work in the center of the pitch.

Projected Starting Lineup (4-4-2)

GK Tim Howard, LB Carlos Bocanegra, CB Oguchi Onyewu, CB Clarence Goodson, RB Steve Cherundolo, LM Landon Donovan, CM Michael Bradley, CM Jermaine Jones, RM Clint Dempsey, ST Juan Agudelo, ST Jozy Altidore

Key Player

Michael Bradley - If one thing has become clear it is that Bradley will play every match for the U.S. and doing so in the center of the pitch after several months of playing sparingly will make his play most critical to the Americans' success.

Impact Bench Player

Sacha Kljestan - With Benny Feilhaber out, Kljestan will be the best chance the U.S. has to bring in a midfielder who can hold the ball and allow Clint Dempsey to play up top.

Prediction

The U.S. remains one of the top two teams in CONCACAF and while capable of winning the tournament, there is no doubt that Mexico is the favorite so odds are the U.S. falls in the final to their rivals.

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