Heading into Saturday’s Copa America roster reveal, the U.S. Men’s National Team had a goalkeeper controversy. In the aftermath of Tim Howard’s return, Jurgen Klinsmann had left the team’s starting spot up for grabs between the future Colorado Rapids shot-stopper and incumbent Brad Guzan.
That competition ended on Saturday with Klinsmann’s naming of a USMNT starter.
Klinsmann revealed on Saturday that Guzan has officially been named the team’s starting goalkeeper ahead of the Copa America, while Howard will serve as the USMNT’s backup throughout this summer’s tournament. Joining the experienced duo on the roster is Ethan Horvath, who beat out veteran Nick Rimando and up-and-comer David Bingham to a spot in the U.S. squad.
According to Klinsmann, the situation presented a “unique decision” with the naming of both his starting goalkeeper and those that would join the squad behind him.
“We go into the tournament with Brad Guzan being the No. 1 and that’s been communicated clearly to Tim and Brad,” Klinsmann said. “We believe that Brad deserves it. Brad, throughout the last two years, played very consistent and very solid with us. He had a very tough year with Aston Villa, no doubt about it, but he knows that and for many, many reasons. but it’s also a different environment.
“Tim Howard finished a huge, huge chapter in his career with Everton Football Club and he’s going to always be a legend for Everton and he did wonderful things for that club, but he hasn’t been with us for a year after the World Cup and he also lost his starting spot the last a half of a year with Everton. In the moment, Brad has a little bit of the edge and deserves it, but having Tim on board and being there to push Brad, to help him. Obviously, if something goes wrong, he’s always there and it’s big for us because his presence and confidence and leadership is vital for our group.”
Here are more USMNT news and notes following Saturday’s roster reveal:
KLINSMANN TOUCHES ON MORRIS EXCLUSION, WONDOLOWSKI SELECTION
Since naming his 40-man preliminary roster several weeks ago, Klinsmann has known that 17 players would need to be trimmed from the squad ahead of the Copa America. Difficult decisions had to be made, including the exclusion of several regular contributors.
One of Klinsmann’s most difficult decisions came at the forward position, especially following the loss of Jozy Altidore to injury. In the end, Klinsmann opted for the veteran guile of forward Chris Wondolowski over the promise and pace of Jordan Morris in what proved to be one of the more surprising selections on the roster.
“We believe that players really played their way into that roster. It’s difficult,” Klinsmann said. “There are some situations where, probably, the fans will discuss why there’s no Jordan Morris and Wondo is in there. It’s because Wondo, all the time, is so hungry for goals and Jordan Morris is on his way through the ranks coming up. Other positions, the centerback position and the midfield, the fans will talk a lot the next couple of days.
“We look over the last two years with who progressed coming through that was not in Brazil and we also know who will be the future faces of the Men’s National Team going forward, but as of today, this is the strongest group of players we believe we can have and still give all of the compliments and respect to the players that are left out in that moment.”
Morris’ omission was far from the only difficult decision Klinsmann had to make. Veteran contributors like Omar Gonzalez, Edgar Castillo and Tim Ream were left at home, while there proved to be no room for centerback prospect Matt Miazga. Meanwhile, playmaker Lee Nguyen was omitted in favor of other options like Darlington Nagbe and Graham Zusi.
“Obviously when you get down and decide on a 23-man roster, a lot of people always think about the players that are not part of the 23 man roster, which as coaches, is the most difficult thing for us, Klinsmann said. “It’s never against a player that is not there; it’s always that you choose for the player that is part of the roster. There are a lot of very close tight decisions that you have to make. A lot of 50-50 decisions where you can argue or debate who should be on or who should be off. The moment where you decide on the roster is about definitely what you feel strongest about. We feel strongly that this is a very, very strong roster.
“We feel strongly that these 23 that are going to the Copa America, a very special Copa America, they deserve to be on that roster. It’s not against the players that are not on the roster. It’s always a bigger pool of players. You want them all to do well and all to be part of an inner circle and to be part of a big tournament, but at the end of the day, you have to make a decision and say that these 23 deserve to go there.”
POSITIONAL VERSATILITY A FACTOR IN ROSTER SELECTION
Heading into the Copa America, many had Fabian Johnson pegged as the USMNT’s starting left midfielder, but the Borussia Monchengladbach star’s listing as a defender served as yet another reminder of what Klinsmann seeks from his squad.
Johnson will all but certainly be the USMNT’s starting left back heading into this summer’s tournament, especially given the omissions of Castillo and Ream. Joining Johnson on the fullback depth chart is Timmy Chandler, a player who can play on either the left or right side of the defense.
According to Klinsmann, versatility played a major part in his selections as the USMNT boss looked to bring in players that can shuffle through various roles when required.
“I think one of the facets of international soccer over the last eight or 10 years are that positions are kind of melding,” Klinsmann said. “You cannot clearly define anymore who is purely a defender or only a striker. You saw that with the Spanish national team over the last 10-12 years where everybody can play striker or the midfielder role, or attacking outside backs that suddenly become playmakers almost. Today, a player and his pure position as a midfielder, you might be wrong because at the next moment, he’s up front.
“An example is Gyasi Zardes. He can play as a winger in midfield or up front as a forward. Clint Dempsey is the same thing. Christian Pulisic can be a striker or he can be a midfielder. I think that’s just simply how it went over the last 10 years in international soccer that you see kind of that there is so much movement on there that players can play different roles, different positions in specific moments based on what is needed for that team. Fabian Johnson can play left back, he can play right back, he can play left midfielder or right midfielder. So this is definitely a change over time now that we have to get used to and it’s just good to now that they can play those different roles based on what is needed.”
KLINSMANN LOOKING FOR USMNT TO MAKE STATEMENT WITH COPA AMERICA RUN
At the 2014 World Cup, the USMNT surprised many by advancing out of what was recognized as the Group of Death. This time, Klinsmann expects the U.S. to take things further while making a statement to the rest of the world.
Despite a difficult group that includes Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay, Klinsmann says he believes wholeheartedly that the U.S. will advance into the knockout rounds. Once there, it’s up to the USMNT to prove they belong on the world’s stage in an unforgiving format against some of the world’s most highly-regarded teams.
Klinsmann conceded that his side likely enters the opener against Colombia as underdogs. However, citing several statement wins over the past two years, Klinsmann believes the U.S. is more than capable of making waves in this summer’s tournament.
“Our goal at this Copa America is to obviously get out of the very difficult group with Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica,” Klinsmann said. “We believe we will do that because we proved that two years ago in Brazil coming out of the group of death with Portugal and Ghana left behind while we went into the next round with Germany out of that difficult group. This is the goal. The goal is coming out of the group, and we said after Brazil that we have to learn how to win knockout games. We have to learn how to get to, in a tournament, to the next level. The next level in the Copa America now, is getting out of your difficult group and then win your quarterfinal.
“Win your quarterfinal against whoever that will be in order to make the final four. This is our goal. We want to be in that tournament very long. We want to play six games in this tournament. We believe that this roster is very, very hungry, very determined and will be very aggressive going into those games and will make it happen.”