Bruce Arena has already made his plans for the Gold Cup quite clear. We’re not going to see the strongest possible U.S. Men’s National Team. Most key players will be left out of the action after a grueling June and ahead of a vital September.
Now, with that in mind, the Gold Cup becomes about identifying and assessing new faces, players that could certainly make the jump from Gold Cup squad to World Cup squad within the next year.
The USMNT was in a similar position four years ago. The 2013 Gold Cup roster was one littered with inexperience with several notable veterans scattered in. They won the whole thing, and, the very next summer, eight of those players were bound for Brazil.
Now, it’s a stretch to think more than a handful of new faces could make that sort of impression over the next month or two, but there’s little doubt that this summer’s Gold Cup is a major test for several up-and-coming USMNT players.
With that in mind, here’s a look at how Arena could set his team up heading into the Gold Cup group stage:
Joe Bendik, Bill Hamid, Jesse Gonzalez
Outlook: All things considered, it’s time to give Tim Howard and Brad Guzan a break. Guzan, in particular, will be in a transition phase as he joins Atlanta United following a disappointing year with Middlesbrough. Howard, meanwhile, isn’t getting any younger, and giving him a summer of just club duty is a good idea ahead of a World Cup year.
Now, the two could certainly be in the mix as knockout stage replacements, with Guzan in particular making a bit more sense. However, the group stage should be about the younger options.
Jesse Gonzalez stands out as he will almost certainly start one of the three group stage matches as the USMNT looks to cap-tie him. The FC Dallas goalkeeper suddenly joins Ethan Horvath as one of the USMNT’s brightest goalkeeping prospects, and he’s almost certainly going to be on the roster.
That leaves two spots for Joe Bendik, Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson. Due to various injuries, Hamid has never really gotten a USMNT chance while Bendik is playing extremely well with Orlando City. Look for them to round out the team before possibly making way during the knockout rounds.
Missed the Cut – Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson
Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Greg Garza, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj, Justin Morrow, Matt Polster, Jonathan Spector
Outlook: The defensive pool is littered with plenty of experienced players. However, few have legitimate USMNT experience heading into this summer.
Matt Hedges, Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector should headline the centerback pool. Hedges, in particular, should see this summer as a major chance to prove himself with a World Cup looming. The FC Dallas defender was in camp for the last round of World Cup qualifiers and, while seizing a starting gig may be a tough ask, a strong Gold Cup performance should keep him in the picture heading down the home stretch to 2018.
The same could be said of players like Greg Garza and Eric Lichaj, two fullbacks poised to make their USMNT returns. There’s a noted lack of depth at the outside back positions, although Jorge Villafana and DeAndre Yedlin appear to have locked down spots. Still, there are roster spots up for grabs and the two veteran fullbacks could be welcome depth additions with strong performances.
As for knockout round replacements, someone like Omar Gonzalez would make sense given his experience in the tournament and current form. Due to Pachuca’s early exit from Liga MX play, the defender is well rested ahead of a potential addition to the team after the group stage.
The wildcard is Matt Miazga. The Gold Cup would certainly be a great test for the young centerback, who is fresh off of an impressive stint with Vitesse. However, his club future remains up in the air as Chelsea looks to sort out a loan move. That could keep him off the roster, but it could also work to his benefit if he earns the call-up and uses it to further prove his mettle to interested teams.
Missed the Cut – Omar Gonzalez, Matt Miazga, Graham Zusi
Paul Arriola, Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Kenny Saief, Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes
Outlook: The central midfield pool is suddenly as crowded as ever. Michael Bradley and Kellyn Acosta are seemingly first choice while there’s always Jermaine Jones lurking in the wing. That makes the Gold Cup imperative for players like Dax McCarty, Cristian Roldan, Joe Corona and Wil Trapp to step up and seize a consistent spot. Of the four, the latter three are the most likely to make the squad, while McCarty could certainly be included after not featuring in June qualifiers.
Paul Arriola headlines the list of wingers, especially after his performance against Mexico. His efforts against El Tri showed a player that continues to evolve and add to his game. Arriola’s June performances made a heck of a case, but a strong Gold Cup could all but lock up a more regular role going forward.
Then there’s Kenny Saeif, a relative wild card in the mix. The dual-national winger is an interesting case because of his club experience. He’s already played, and scored, in the Champions League, giving him a pedigree matched by few in the USMNT pool. It remains to be seen how he fits in and competes with the current squad, but he’s a player that could certainly go from uncapped to regular very, very quickly.
Looking ahead, Darlington Nagbe is someone that could come in for the knockout rounds while Acosta and Bradley could join the fray if Arena wants to give the two a bit more time together.
Missed the Cut – Kellyn Acosta, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Tommy McNamara, Darlington Nagbe, Chris Pontius, Christian Pulisic
Dom Dwyer, Jordan Morris, CJ Sapong, Chris Wondolowski
Outlook: Dom Dwyer stands out as the most intriguing option of the forward pool. Now officially eligible for the USMNT, Dwyer is a perfect fit for CONCACAF play. He’s quick, powerful and has a heck of a work ethic and should be someone tailor-made for these group stage matches.
Alongside him are a number of forwards with different skill sets. CJ Sapong is the typical target man that is still very much needed in CONCACAF play. Jordan Morris’ pace should be embraced either up top or out wide if need be.
It may not be a sexy pick, but Chris Wondolowski could be included in this group if Arena deems it necessary to add a veteran to the mix. Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, meanwhile, should be held out as knockout round replacements, with the former being the most likely to join the fray should the U.S. look to push on for a title.
Missed the Cut – Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey.