Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Five Things We Learned From The Opening Week Of Gold Cup Action

1. There are four very clear front runners- For the USA, Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica, things really couldn't have been much more one sided. On opening night, both Mexico and Costa Rica sealed convincing five nil wins, while Jamaica and the United States quickly followed up their rivals with comfortable wins of their own. A Jamaica side boasting more MLS players than any other team in the tournament swept aside Grenada with consummate ease, while the US prevailed by a two goal margin against Canada. All four teams looked impressive in the attacking third and resolute at the back, attributes which will no doubt assist them later on.

2. The US have found their central defensive partnership- Following the embarrassment which was Oguchi Onyewu's poor attempt at playing football on Saturday afternoon, I was delighted to see Bob Bradley reshuffle the pack for the US' Gold Cup opener. Replacing Gooch was Denmark based defender Clarence Goodson, who did a fine job next to the New York Red Bull's Tim Ream. As ever, Ream was terrific with the ball at his feet, delivering a series of accurate passes into the final third. Even more impressively, he maintained the defensive solidity which had been lacking against Spain, albeit against a much, much weaker opponent. At six-four, Goodson is a threat in the air, and seemed to complement Tim Ream well. While I would still like to see Omar Gonzalez have a go at playing for the US, I think the Goodson-Ream partnership is the one to stick with for the duration of the tournament.

3. Chicharito is the real deal at international level- After  a terrific season with Manchester United, I was looking forward to seeing Javier Hernandez have a crack at the Gold Cup. The Little Pea is such a danger in the penalty area, and he proved that again, scoring three goals in Mexico's five-nil romp over El Salvador, all three from inside the area. A headed finish was complemented by a terrific volleyed effort, and then a cheeky Panenka penalty. No doubt, Bob Bradley has identified Chicharito as the man to look out for heading into the United States' inevitable Gold Cup showdown with Mexico, and it will be interesting to see how he plans to stop him. Let's hope that Hernandez continues to shine in America, and avoids suffering from fatigue.

4. Jozy has emerged from his slumber- As ever, the face told the whole story. Just one glance at a beaming Jozy Altidore told you all you needed to know about the importance of the American's goal against Canada. Criticized by many (including myself) Altidore was frankly lucky to reclaim his starting spot, and was clearly relieved by his first half strike. Everything about the way Altidore took his goal was highly convincing, the striker showed good strength to hold off his defender, and excellent awareness to fire off a snap shot. Yes, the goalkeeper probably should have kept his effort out, but they all count, and hopefully that tally will inspire Altidore to greater things in upcoming matches.

5. Tim Howard is America's finest- Earlier in this piece, I described the United States' win over Canada as comfortable, but that statement could have been turned upside down had it not been for the brilliant reflexes of Tim Howard. In the period between the start of the second half and Clint Dempsey's tension relieving goal, the US were put under significant pressure by the Canadians, and they had the sprawling saves of Tim Howard to thank for keeping them ahead on several occasions. However, Howard's best moment came with a two-nil lead already intact, when he saved Ali Gerba's shot from close range. That save stopped things from becoming a little interesting for the US, and all but guaranteed their progress into the next round.

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