ARLINGTON, Texas – U.S. players and coaches sound genuinely excited about a chance to perform in Jerry Jones’ billion dollar colossus, and they don’t mind a bit that so much of a sold-out crowd at Cowboys Stadium will arrive to see the back half of Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinal doubleheader, a contest involving Mexico.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann in particular sounds stoked about the opportunity and remains ever eager to learn yet more about this personnel group as they get pushed by a determined Honduras in a race for Sunday’s tournament final.
But make no mistake, the highly professional, decidedly business-like mentality Klinsmann keeps force-feeding to the players still prevails, and he wants badly to claim this tournament
“Obviously, to play in a place like this here is not happening very often,” Klinssman said Tuesday from inside the splashy venue. “So the players take it all in. Cowboys Stadium. A semifinal. A very, very difficult opponent. That’s what you all want! So, that’s the next benchmark for us.”
Klinsmann acknowledged that ongoing evaluations remain important, getting a “better picture,” as the manager says, of the players’ abilities individually and within a team concept. But clearly there is a balance to be achieved.
“The priority, when it comes down to the day before the game is the game!” he said. “It’s necessary to win those games. Therefore, the guys are already, they are pumped up. They want to do well. An opportunity like tomorrow night doesn’t come along very often, in a huge, fantastic stadium. We always keep the big picture in mind, but we badly want this trophy this year.”
It is a swell place, and the roof will be closed Wednesday when Honduras and the United States kick off just after as 7 p.m. ET (Fox Soccer Channel), followed by Mexico and Panama at 10 p.m. ET. Winners meet at historic Soldier Field on Sunday in Chicago.
While the venue is tops, the field isn’t. Another of these dicey, problematic temporary fields (this one struggling even more without the benefit of natural sunlight or proper air circulation) will be a talking point, especially as the narrow width plays into tactics that could potentially benefit Honduras.
(MORE: The field in a word at Cowboys Stadium: awful)
The United States, as always, hopes to keep the tempo high and the press Honduras near its own goal, while the visitors are more likely to attack with some caution and hope to strike on the counter. It has been ever thus in the Gold Cup as the United States has hopscotched across the big land, now playing in its fourth time zone during the semi-annual tournament.
Klinsmann has rotated players extensively during a competition with such a brutal pace of travel and rapid-fire matches. Counting a pre-tournament friendly against Guatemala, Wednesday’s semifinal will be the United States’ sixth match in 20 days, with travel between each stop.
So chance are high of seeing a new face or two in the lineup, even if the 11 deployed Sunday managed the quarterfinal task quite nicely, eventually chewing up El Salvador pretty good in a 5-1, Landon Donovan-inspired quarterfinal triumph.
Still, Eddie Johnson seems likely to replace Chris Wondolowski in the U.S. lineup. And big defender Omar Gonzalez, having met the team in Dallas after getting one more match in with his LA Galaxy, seems sure to feature along the back line.
Stuart Holden, left on the bench Sunday for the first time in the tournament, could come in for Mix Diskerud or even for holding midfield specialist Kyle Beckerman.
(MORE: Three Good Questions for U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden)
Honduras, a country where the soccer fortunes seem to rise annually now, arrived with a win Sunday over Costa Rica, the same team that gave the United States a pretty hard time in the Gold Cup group stage finale. Andy Najar, who made his professional bones with D.C. United before moving his pro career to Europe, had the Honduran goal in the quarterfinal victory.
Honduras, like the United States, has brought a “B” team version for the tournament. But some of the players remain familiar as these nations meet for a third time this year. A 2-1 World Cup qualifier loss in Honduras back in February was the last U.S. loss in a meaningful match (and was a “turning point” moment in some eyes, although Klinnsmann has said the February setback was more about the logistical challenges of players arriving in from Europe, unaccustomed to the Central American heat.)
Jozy Altidore’s goal was enough to push the United States past Honduras as the teams met again in qualifying for Brazil 2014 in June, this time on U.S. soil in Utah.
This is also the teams’ third semifinal meeting in a Gold Cup, with the United States posting wins of 2-1 and 2-0 in en route to the tournament finals in 2005 and 2009. Clarence Goodson, a U.S. center back starter in this year’s tournament, had the game-winner in 2009.
(MORE: Three U.S. men who have upped their value with Gold Cup performance)