Written by Will Parchman

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I think it’s a fair read on the situation to call the Gold Cup something of a ocean floor trawler of a tournament. There is value in it, whatever Average American Soccer Fan X would tell you, but the value is often mixed in with layers of silt and obscuring phytoplankton and performances that would otherwise only serve to confuse the hell out of you.

Perhaps the deepest trawl, and the one that muddied the USMNT waters the most completely, was whatever spirit possessed and animated Freddy Adu’s legs in 2011. Adu, you’ll recall, had already lustily fallen off the pace in 2011, and he quickly found himself on those seemingly self-populating Players Who Need To Prove Themselves listicles.

Adu had himself an enormous tournament, or at least by his own wonky standards, and this field-opening pass to Landon Donovan (I saw it live, and it was, at the time, arresting) to crack open a game against Panama in the semis the U.S. eventually won was… well it was pretty damn incredible to see after everything.

Adu’s 2011 Gold Cup was a lark. We know this now. His pathway into the first team was no clearer a month after the tournament than it was a month before it as his performances plummeted back from the troposphere, but at the time you couldn’t see past that pass, man. It was something else. And it was, for all its splendor, so much silt floating up from the bottom of the ocean and making the USMNT roster that much harder to glimpse through the shimmering fog. Do we… do we need to start talking about Adu again?

This is the ultimate trouble with the Gold Cup. It does this to us, forces us to make entire meals of table scraps. How do you ultimately handicap the performances, both from the field and from the sideline? And what do they matter, in the end, when the XIs on the field are so far set apart from the preferred first team XIs most any given coach with Gold Cup title aspirations would utilize in an ideal world? How many 2011 Adus will this particular tournament trawl up?

And this crack in the foundation is where the seepage of bias worms its way into the discussion.

The only real way to win the Gold Cup, at least from an American coaching perspective in non-Confederations Cup qualification years, is to drop unsubtle hints to your fan base about your system. You may not have your first choice side, but you certainly have the tactical framework in which they’ll play. This was why Bob Bradley’s 2011 Gold Cup was so disastrous and why Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2013 Gold Cup was arguably his greatest triumph. The 2013 team played some legitimately swashbuckling soccer, and Klinsmann managed to tease surprisingly robust performances out of fringe guys like Brek Shea, Clarence Goodson and Chris Wondolowski. Even Mix Diskerud had a relatively successful tournament. The U.S. ultimately won its six games by a staggering plus-16 goal margin and, of course, ultimately won the entire thing.

It was not so much the trophy itself that hung so lightly around Klinsmann’s neck, but the performances that led them there. These tournaments are only valuable insofar as they tell you something broader about the team playing them, like a plot point hidden under the fourth layer in a Dostoyevsky novel that suddenly makes you realize your shortcomings as a spouse (or, you know, something). You know most of these players aren’t playing in a World Cup. But the system in which they operate? That’s immutable. Or else it should be.

This is the hinge point where we start talking about bias in how you see meaning in Gold Cups. And the Gold Cup, with all its strange moveable expectations that vary so wildly from person to person, it immediately becomes easy to see how coaches can either become hung by the Gold Cup (as Bradley was in 2011), vindicated by it (as Klinsmann was in 2013) and then have it act as a sort of blood-red blinking engine light for systemic problems almost entirely unrelated to the Gold Cup at all (this would be Klinsmann in 2015).

The Gold Cup is enough of an oddity and an outlier in what people expect from the USMNT in that all these things are possible. If you hate Incumbent Media, whatever that means for you, then anything other than withering criticism of Bruce Arena in the absence of soaring soccer in this tournament will be soft placation. If you are one of Arena’s Rough Riders, then there are practically no worthy criticisms aside from the meager individual jabs at players seemingly performing under their potential. And if you are somewhere in the middle, then you can simply shrug and wait until World Cup qualifiers begin again. And all of these viewpoints are ultimately incomplete.

This is all made that much harder to discern by the murk driving up from the bottom created by poor performances from supposed World Cup hopefuls (Kellyn Acosta, for instance, had an objectively poor game in the opener against Panama) and quality performances from players who emerged from nowhere (Dom Dwyer, for instance). The Gold Cup is important because it allows these World Cup stories to rise, but they are so often obscured by the tournament itself. Wondolowski’s 2013 Gold Cup more or less led to his inclusion in the 2014 World Cup, the only player to really use that venue as a true launchpad to Brazil, and… we know that story.

If there’s a way to watch this tournament – or if there’s a way I watch this tournament – it’s to expect far more out of the team ethic than anything individual. Look at the system and the fruit it produces, much like you would a projection-based U17 or U20 World Cup. This tournament can be an important vehicle to the World Cup, albeit for a select few, but it’s more important as a signal flare to the fans about the sort of soccer the particular coach at the time plans on playing. Around the Gold Cup, the U.S. was on a tear in 2013 after a 4-2 loss to the Netherlands that revealed some genuinely pleasing attacking play and of course the 4-3 win over Germany. In 2015, the wheels were rusting and cracking at the axles. The Gold Cup merely reflected all that back to us.

The individual performances will come or they will not. There’s not much Arena can do about Kelyn Rowe coming to play or not. But what he can do, and what I think is most important in not only this Gold Cup but in every one to follow, is set up a style and a basic framework for 2018, whether these are his horses for that tournament’s paddock or not. That is why the opening Panama match was concerning on a base level. Not because of the individual blasé-ness of it all, but because the interchange was bored and laggardly, the gaps between the back line and the defense were horrendous in size, and the crater where the creator should be was smoking and ruinous.

These are foundational things that can tell you a significant about a coach’s plan (or conversely, that there isn’t much of one). It is the Gold Cup, of course, and reading microscopically into every detail will forever be a fool’s errand. But continue to watch the tactical cohesiveness with which this team plays. From there, everything else should follow. Including the praise and ultimately the criticism.

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Written by Will Parchman

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India, the host of the 2017 U17 World Cup, will be called a sleeping giant until we are under dirt. And in that time it’s very unlikely they ever truly wake up.

There are myriad factors in place contributing to this, of course, but India’s history in FIFA tournaments has been nonexistent. Until now. This looming U17 World Cup tournament, which begins in three months, marks a bit of history for India. It’s the first FIFA tournament the country’s ever hosted, but it’s also the first FIFA tournament any India team has ever participated in. So all the soccer world (or at least the nerdiest portions of it) held its breath Friday to see who’d face India for the first time in a FIFA-sanctioned event.

It is us, as it turns out. And USSF president Sunil Gulati, who was born in India, was on hand to enjoy the moment. And he really enjoyed it.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Jonathan Klinsmann’s 2015-17 U.S. U20 cycle had a pleasant end that masked an at times jostling road to get there.

Klinsmann finished his course with coach Tab Ramos and the U20s as the relatively unquestioned No. 1 goalkeeper for the U20 World Cup earlier this year. Klinsmann’s efforts in South Korea were not without their bumbles – he was at fault for at least two of Ecuador’s tallies in the wild 3-3 opener – but he straightened out toward the end and finished with a respectable tournament on balance. It would not be enough to label him as an immediate up-and-coming pro with a top club, but it would raise a few eyebrows and perhaps crack a few doors.

There is also the question of his heritage, of course. The fact that he is Jurgen Klinsmann’s son, a native of the very game’s lifeblood itself, would not itself get him a contract. But, again, the doors would be ajar.

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Written by Will Parchman

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When FC Cincinnati flung open the doors to Nippert Stadium for the first time, nearly 15,000 fans walked through them (FCC went on to beat the Charlotte Independence 2-1). A franchise-opening match at home in the middle of the city? Of course attendance was good. Let’s see how it holds up.

A week later FCC hosted its next game. This time more than 20,000 people showed up. And then 11,000 in the driving rain not long after that. Perhaps something was happening in the land of Skyline Chili we had not anticipated. A tremor in the Midwestern Force.

There was something happening here, perhaps something beyond reckoning. And as if there was any doubt, Wednesday allayed any notions to the contrary that FC Cincinnati is about to be the next expansion team admitted to MLS.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Bruce Arena went for it.

This Gold Cup roster… is fun.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Early last year, almost as soon as he was legally eligible to do so, McKinze Gaines signed on the dotted line for Wolfsburg.

It represented a significant closed circle for the Austin, Texas native, who’d first lassoed the attention of the country at the 2013 DA Winter Showcase and eventually found himself as one of the key contributors on that U17 MNT cycle. Untethered by an MLS academy and bristling to try his hand overseas, Gaines’ move to Wolfsburg was a hugely significant milestone.

A little more than a year later, and Gaines is moving on.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Manny Schellscheidt was never a man given over to delirious spasms of hyperbole when it came to young prospects. He’d been doing this too long, had seen too many young players fall victim to a development process that can be hard to understand at best and viciously duplicitous at worst. Freddy Adu had once passed through his U.S. U14 ID camps, after all.

So when Schellscheidt first saw the young, diminutive kid embarrassing defenders one afternoon on a small field in Pennsylvania in 2011, there was little broader fanfare about it. Nobody knew who the kid was yet on any substantive level, and Schellscheidt had his reservations, although he knew the kid was special. The old coach stuck around a few days, noted the kid’s name in his notepad, talked to the club coaches on hand and then left assured of at least one thing in the absence of all else.

He would see Christian Pulisic play again. And this time he’d be running the camp.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Forty three years ago today, in the stadium now known as Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, Johan Cruyff showed 53,700 people something they’d never seen before.

The Netherlands arrived at the 1974 World Cup on the heels of an impossibly successful qualification campaign. Bolstered by what was at the time their best ever team, the Dutch ripped through their qualifying group with four wins from six games and a plus-22 goal differential. At the time, Ajax’s Total Football was seeping into the international consciousness as the Dutch team switched positions like some sort of supercharged ballet. With the legendary Johan Cruyff leading the charge, defenses didn’t seem quite certain what to make of it. It wasn’t until they met West Germany in the final that a team managed to pull the curtain across the show.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Muscle memory is the bedrock of modern soccer. As a global family, we’ve been playing the game now in some form for centuries, and in our current iteration the oldest fully professional side is more than 150 years old.  With so much time elapsed, gently tottering off under the bridge of time for decades and decades, the game’s flag standard is firmly planted in the ground, more or less unmoving.

At least in terms of FIFA rules, which the vast majority of the world recognizes in its leagues stretching down to the elite youth level, understanding the importance of muscle memory in this is to understand the game itself. Soccer is largely soccer because both collectives and individuals can click into a sort of athletic autopilot, allowing the game’s flow to dictate their fluid decisions on an almost subconscious intellectual level.

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Written by Will Parchman

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By the time the news circulated that Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfumed caravan was ready to leave Spain, the hounds were out. Mostly on Twitter.

Sporting, Cristiano Ronaldo’s first professional club in his home country of Portugal, inscribed a passionate tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really plea to its native son to come home. Bolton, for some reason, told us they would not under any circumstances open contract negotiations with CR7. Salisbury FC did a thing too.

The complications surrounding why exactly Ronald opted to move on not only from Real Madrid but from Spain entirely are complicated if you care enough to dig and extremely uncomplicated if you want the Cliff’s Notes. In essence, Spain is alleging the preening Portuguese hasn’t paid a significant chunk of his taxes – more than $14 million, to be exact – and is attempting to shake it out of him. Cristiano Ronaldo, in response, has apparently opted to pick up his ball and head home in furious protest.

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