KANSAS CITY (CBSMiami/AP) – The U.S. Men’s National Team may have won their group in the opening stage of the Gold Cup but that doesn’t mean there isn’t much for the squad to improve on.
Jurgen Klinsmann spouted optimism after the United States played Panama to a 1-1 draw to wrap up the group stage of the Gold Cup, reasoning that despite a trio of sluggish performances the Americans had still survived unbeaten.
That didn’t stop Klinsmann from shaking up his roster less than 24 hours later.
The coach chose to add DaMarcus Beasley, Joe Corona and Alan Gordon for the knockout rounds, which begin with the quarterfinals Saturday in Baltimore. Taking a seat are Greg Garza, Alfredo Morales and Jozy Altidore, who has been hampered by an ailing hamstring.
Teams could make up to six roster changes using their 35-player preliminary list.
Altidore started the first two games in the group stage but was substituted out of both. He was left on the bench against Panama on Monday night.
“We believe that Jozy’s just not there yet. Jozy never really got into this tournament and never really picked up the rhythm,” Klinsmann said in announcing the changes Tuesday. “He’s just simply not in the shape right now to help us.”
Klinsmann said he knew that Altidore might not be match fit when he selected him for the Gold Cup, and that’s why Gordon was on standby from the beginning. The Los Angeles Galaxy striker made his only national team appearance in a 2012 World Cup qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda; while he was on the Gold Cup roster two years ago, he didn’t get into a match.
Klinsmann said that the addition of the 33-year-old Beasley will provide leadership and experience. The four-time World Cup veteran captained the U.S. to the Gold Cup title two years ago but had announced his retirement from international competition.
“Having DaMarcus come into the team is huge, because of his character, his giving nature, the spirit he brings, but also the high quality he brings,” Klinsmann said. “He brings a lot of experience into this group, and he’s hungry. He’s still as hungry as Day 1 in his career.”
Corona, who scored twice in the Gold Cup two years ago, was added for his experience against teams from the Caribbean and Central America. He also is proficient at maintaining possession, something the Americans have struggled to do.
“In the tournament now we need to produce results and get things done. With Joe, we have that option to bring him in now,” Klinsmann said. “With his great technique, with his one-touch passing, he makes things very easy and simple. I think it’s a great opportunity to have Joe back, even if it hurts a little bit for Alfredo, but that’s just part of the game.”
The U.S. finished 2-0-1 atop Group A, though the unblemished run wasn’t without stress. The Americans scuffled to a 2-1 victory over Honduras and needed a big play from Clint Dempsey for a 1-0 victory over Haiti.
Still, Klinsmann chose to highlight the quality of the group rather than his own team’s shortcomings and insisted the U.S. is trending upward heading into the quarterfinals.
“We can improve still a lot, absolutely,” Klinsmann said. “You can take the game apart and see that we didn’t have the passing rhythm we needed. We made mistakes. But we know we’re growing game to game and that’s what this is all about.”
Not everyone shared such robust optimism, though.
“We’re not going to kid ourselves. We need to put together a 90-minute performance,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “Now going forward it’s about wins. It’s about grinding, find a way.”
Dempsey, who has scored three of the Americans’ four goals, had a rather simple explanation for the string of lackluster performances: “Teams just play hard against us.”
“We’re trying to get everyone together,” Dempsey explained. “I think the most important thing is to be hitting your stride now, when it starts to matter.”
By that, he means the knockout stage, in which the Americans are still the heavy favorites to win the tournament.
“There’s no real preparation for the Gold Cup, so it’s difficult to be in a flow,” Klinsmann said. “Now being together for more than two weeks, hopefully we can get more and more into that phase where we combine better, we’re shifting better and doing certain things better that only come with time.”
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