The High Five: Mulling a opinion sure to be unpopular with U.S. fans, a swell trade for D.C. United and more

1. Anybody else want to see a Gold Cup beyond the comfy U.S. borders?

Pop quiz: How did the United States do in the last CONCACAF Gold Cup contested entirely beyond U.S. borders?

Answer: It’s a trick question! Such a thing has never happened.

Since the tournament was rebranded as the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 1990 (coinciding essentially with the United States’ birth into the international game), the tournament has always been based in the United States. Twice, Mexico served as a co-host.

We all know why: the financial incentive of hosting this competition inside the United States is too difficult to resist, and it serves all participating members’ pocket books. But at some point, shouldn’t this thing be about actual competition? That’s another way of asking, shouldn’t this thing be more fair?

To that end, shouldn’t the tournament move beyond U.S. borders? If that Confederations Cup berth for the winner is as valuable as U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann says – it’s a point we can certainly debate – then how is it possibly fair that the bulk of every tournament happens inside U.S. stadiums, giving the Yanks an unquestionable edge before anyone ever kicks a ball?

Don’t we think Jamaica or Costa Rica or anyone else would love to begin with such an edge? And even if you passionately support the United States national team, don’t you squirm just a little at the “rich-getting-richer” feel to every single Gold Cup tournament, year after year, giving the most powerful nation a huge head start in terms of home-field advantage?

Sure, it’s great for U.S. fans. But is it fair?

Yes, the stadiums are bigger and better here, etc., and the organizational infrastructure generally trumps any regional would-be host.  But would it really be such a hardship for, say, Guatemala and Honduras to co-host a Gold Cup? Or how about Costa Rica? Or how about one staged in the Caribbean, mahn?

Obviously, Mexico could pull it off.  They’ve done two World Cups, after all.

It can’t always be about money. At some point, it really needs to be about fairness, too.

Last point: Jurgen Klinsmann has been great about insisting the United States test itself on the road against the very best; matches away against Italy, Netherlands, Germany and others prove it. At some point, wouldn’t the United States benefit in the long run with a beefier Gold Cup test, in matches played without the backing of friendly crowds, in lands less comfy and familiar? 

2. D.C. United scores big with last week’s trade

In terms of grabbing and holding our interest, summer transfers into MLS always trump good, old fashioned intra-league trades. Blame the human condition; we generally gravitate to the shiny, new things.

But one trade last week caught my attention: D.C. United’s acquisition of striker Alvaro Saborio.

Saborio is 33, and there is indication of significant tread loss on those Tico tires. The longtime Real Salt Lake man’s scoring rate had been just over one every two matches – the historic standard for highly productive strikers. He knocked in 53 goals in 97 matches from 2010-2013.

But “Sabo” had just 11 goals in 30 matches for RSL in the last two years.

Adding a couple of factors (some tactical, but mostly that he was expensive and in the last year of his contract), his value to RSL was tumbling downhill fast. In return, RSL got from D.C. United a much younger player in Luis Silva, who will be a credible backup and understudy for the Javier Morales. (Morales certainly looks timeless, but he’ll slow down at some point … we think.). Silva is talented, but anything from the finished product, which is why he just landed at his third MLS address in four seasons. Still, the trade makes sense for RSL.

For United, it more than makes sense. Major League Soccer’s best team at faithfully grinding out results still had a couple of holes. One of them was at striker. Fabian Espindola is better operating as a second striker, drifting out to the wings while creating as much as scoring. (In a season at a half at RFK, he has 12 goals but, even better, 14 assists.)

When they lost Eddie Johnson – it seems increasingly doubtful that the former U.S. international will return from his officially unspecified medical condition – they lost that one guy who knew how to get the business done in front of goal.

They have it again in Saborio, even if this is a slightly diminished version. If they save “Sabo” for the moments that matter, the longtime Costa Rican international absolutely has the experience, will and know-how to claim a big goal in a big game.

United is running away with the East at the moment by grinding. In the playoffs, everyone becomes grinders, and they’ll need just a little more. This looks to me like a trade where D.C. United officials are saying: “We’re close. We’re looking for moves that will get us over the hump. This year.”

3. Oscar Pareja gets it right with Mauro Diaz

If you liked Mauro Diaz second half on Saturday – he was OK in the opening 45, and then absolutely outstanding after the break in the 2-1 win over D.C. United –you’ll be interested in a conversation I had with FC Dallas manager Oscar Pareja earlier this year.

I noticed in early season matches that Diaz tended to withdraw himself from the games, more or less, for 5-10 minutes at a time. He would just hide on the back side or not go looking for the ball with any real initiative.

Obviously, Pareja saw it, too. I asked the FC Dallas manager if it bothered him? Essentially, he told me this:

No. Not in the month of May, it didn’t. Pareja kept telling us that Diaz needed time to get his strength and conditioning up to par. He trusted the Argentine playmaker and, as such, Pareja was willing to accept these windows of lesser activation. He said Diaz knows the game and knows himself, Pareja had faith that patience would pay. He reckoned that allowing Diaz to work himself into the season in his own way would best serve the team in the long run.

Ask yourself this: how many managers would have taken a harder approach, demanding “more work” or even withholding a player if he wasn’t “giving 100 percent,” all the time?

Diaz bossed the second half Saturday against an increasingly tired D.C. United; Fabian Castillo got the goal, but Diaz’s ability and wisdom with the ball (along with the visitor’s wilt in the heat) turned the possession arrow in Dallas’ favor. The home team beat and beat on the door, finally putting two past Ben Olsen’s team to claim its fourth win in a row.

It’s not hard to imagine a different result had Pareja chosen incorrectly earlier this year in handling his star playmaker’s unconventional path to reliable dominance.

4. U.S. vs. Cuba was a lesson in … absolutely nothing

No disrespect to any of my colleagues, those who drew conclusions from Saturday’s Gold Cup romp-and-stomp, the easy-breezy U.S. win over helplessly overmatched Cuba. But, c’mon!

I understand: editors and producers were demanding “lessons” and “conclusions” from the match. But does anybody really think we learned anything substantive from a 6-0 result that could have been worse, if the United States had leaned into the sunny afternoon just a little more?

Best guess: We would have learned more from an 11 v 11 intra-squad scrimmage.

Perhaps we could draw a couple of wee conclusions. For instance, defenders Timothy Chandler and Ventura Alvarado still made mistakes, the kind that will prove so, so, so much more costly against better teams. And there can be no doubt that Clint Dempsey remains the man of the moment in a U.S. shirt.

Past that? Nada. So we’d all be better not to even try.

5. The Little Five

5a. As Major League Soccer continues to add stars (through the expanding DP mechanisms), perhaps this part will be a bit of a leveler: look at what Sporting Kansas City, far less affected by international call-ups, is doing while Seattle suffers from its Gold Cup losses (plus the injury to Obafemi Martins). Sporting KC has won 5 of 6 over roughly the same period that Seattle has lost 5 of 6.

5b. We all know it doesn’t make much sense to look at MLS standings until, well, right about now. Things can change so much that any table-gazing before All-Star break is practically meaningless. But … ! Now we can start assigning some harder assumptions and conclusions. Here’s one: the current math says it will take about 42-44 points in the East to make the playoffs, but perhaps up to 50 in the West. So, there are your first swings at this year’s playoff “magic number.”

5c. This may be right from the mouth of Captain Obvious: an L.A. Galaxy without U.S. internationals Omar Gonzales and Gyasi Zardes and soon-to-arrive Mexican star Giovani dos Santos is rolling nonetheless. I’m not the first to make that point. But how about this: can we start talking about the best team yet assembled in Major League Soccer’s 20 years? Obviously, it has much to do with the newly added 4th Designated Player; past MLS teams, with fewer DP options, didn’t have a chance at such high quality. If they win this year – it would be L.A.’s fourth in five years, someone will have to show me a better MLS side. Ever.

5d. Best stat I saw this week, Part I: When center backs Matt Miazga and Damien Perrinelle and holding midfielder Dax McCarty are in the New York Red Bulls’ lineup, the team is 7-0-3. With any other combo, the team is a paltry 1-6-2.

5e. Best stat I saw this week, Part II (credit to ESPN): Cuauhtémoc Blanco contributed directly to 42 Chicago Fire strikes (16 goals, 26 assists) in 62 games during his time in Bridgeview. Combined goals and assists for all other Chicago Fire DPs equals 30 in 135 games. That is an organization picking unwisely (beyond Blanco, that is).

 

Steve Davis has covered Major League Soccer since is first kick in 1996. He writes on-line for World Soccer Talk and Fusion TV’s Soccergods, and co-hosts the weekly radio show/podcast ESPN Soccer Today on 103.3 FM in Dallas. Davis is also the radio play-by-play voice for FC Dallas on 100.7 FM.

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