The 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup will serve many purposes for U.S. Men’s National Team manager Bruce Arena, but the biggest is getting an extended look at new faces and those on the fringe of the first team.
Arena took the first step toward Gold Cup preparations on Saturday, when U.S. Soccer released the provisional 40-man roster for the tournament.
Included in the roster are first-team regulars, young players hungry to make their mark and some old faces that have been waiting for a second chance for years in some cases.
Here’s a look at a few players who have the most to gain, starting in the Gold Cup on June 25 and going into the tournament itself.
The name that stood out right away on the provisional roster was that of FC Dallas netminder Jesse Gonzalez. The goalkeeping prospect has been in a tug of war between the United States and Mexico for his talents, and it seems like the USMNT has an edge on El Tri if he shows up and plays in the Gold Cup.
Out of the six goalkeepers on the provisional roster, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan seem to be surefire locks to make the 23-man squad, unless one of two pulls out for whatever reason. That leaves one spot on the roster remaining for Gonzalez, Bill Hamid, Joe Bendik and Sean Johnson to fight for.
Hamid is a known quantity and should still be in Arena’s sights regardless of if he makes the final cut. Bendik and Johnson have had good seasons in MLS, but will probably come up short of making the Gold Cup. Gonzalez is the most intriguing prospect because Arena has the ability to cap tie him in July, probably in a group stage contest. If that is the case, the USMNT could have its goalkeeper of the future secured.
Because of the lack of stability at full back over the last few years, Eric Lichaj’s name has always come up in USMNT discussions, but he never received a true opportunity from Jurgen Klinsmann. The Nottingham Forest man was on the preliminary Copa America Centenario roster, but he only played in the friendly against Puerto Rico.
The 28-year-old carries a load of European experience from his time at Forest into the camp, and he put himself in a good position to start in the Gold Cup at right back with DeAndre Yedlin being given some rest. Lichaj will be in direct competition with Graham Zusi, Matt Polster and potentially Matt Besler for the right back spot, with Jorge Villafana, Greg Garza and Justin Morrow battling at left back.
At some point, the younger generation of American midfielders will have to take over the keys to the car. Kellyn Acosta has started to break into the first team, and Cristian Roldan could be next on the list. The Seattle Sounders man has impressed over the last year and a half and it appears he’s ready to prove himself on the international stage.
However, it will be hard for Roldan to work his way into playing time in July with Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe in the squad. It’s a safe assumption that quartet will make the 23-man squad so Roldan will be in competition with plenty of other MLSers for the final few spots. Based off what we’ve seen in Seattle, Roldan could hold an edge over the likes of Wil Trapp, Kelyn Rowe and Tommy McNamara.
It’s hard to believe Juan Agudelo is only 24, but he is and he’s found consistency at the club level with New England to earn a spot on the 40-man Gold Cup roster. Agudelo is the owner of 23 caps, with three goals in those appearances. If Arena values past experience, albeit the majority of it from six years ago, Agudelo could enter camp with an edge over fellow MLS strikes C.J. Sapong and Dom Dwyer.
A return to the first team could be a huge boost of confidence for Agudelo, who already has seven goals in 2017 for the Revs. His presence would also bring another dimension to the attack that carries plenty of physical players.
Dom Dwyer’s arrival to a USMNT squad has been one of the most anticipated topics in 2017 among American soccer fans. Dwyer has been one of the most consistent forwards in MLS over the last three years, and he earned his American citizenship in March.
It’s probably same to assume Dwyer is competition with Agudelo and Sapong for the final forward spot on the roster, unless Chris Wondolowski does something magical in camp and knocks out the three younger forwards. Dwyer’s skill set would benefit the USMNT greatly, and it would give Arena a direct backup to Altidore in terms of style of play, something the Americans have struggled with in the past during major competitions.