Will the real Team USA please stand up? I've personally watched the U.S. national team play three times in the past week-and-a-half, and I can't figure out which team is going to show up on which day.
Is it the one that thoroughly dominated China in a 4-1 friendly win in San Jose, Calif.?
Maybe the one that lost its composure in the CONCACAF Gold Cup opener, earning five bookings in a hard-fought 1-0 win over a Guatemala team that frustrated the Americans with physical, often dirty play?
What about the youth squad that looked unsure of itself in a 2-0 win over a Trinidad and Tobago team that had zero international experience?
Whatever the case, none of these performances is good enough to beat better teams -- namely Mexico in the likely Gold Cup final, Argentina in the Copa América opener on June 28 and, God forbid, Brazil in the quarterfinals.
That's exactly the complaint I put forward to SI.com's Greg Lalas when we chatted on the phone on Monday. But Greg made a good point:
"How did Italy win the World Cup?" he asked. "They screwed around against the U.S. and Ghana. They needed a last-minute penalty kick to beat Australia. Then they got it in gear against Ukraine, Germany and France."
Now, none of us are comparing Team USA to the world champions. But the point is well taken. Italy played down to the level of its competition at least four times during Germany '06 (we here in the press hammer home the term "playing your way into form"), then raised its game when it needed to.
The U.S. has bagged two wins in two games so far at the Gold Cup and clinched a spot in the quarterfinals. At least a draw against El Salvador on Tuesday night at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. (7 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel), and the Americans sew up first place in Group B. Then they can worry about the knockout rounds and Mexico.
They're not clicking yet -- we all can see it, and even head coach Bob Bradley (pictured, above right) is disappointed in the Americans' inability to finish their scoring chances. But they're doing what they need to do to win.
What do you think? How is the U.S. looking? Does it have what it takes to win the Gold Cup, especially considering Mexico's stutter start? And then what about the Yanks' chances at the Copa América later this month? Fire away. (And stay tuned Tuesday night for Lalas' follow-up of the El Salvador match.)