Top Stories

Projecting the USMNT Gold Cup roster

Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports

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.



    • Stuttgart has its first preseason match on July 9, and he didn’t have that good of six months with Stuttgart last season.

  1. Drop McCarty for Acosta. Kellyn needs minutes and this would be a great opportunity for him to gain the experience. He could help lead during the group round, than work on his chemistry with Bradley in the knock-out rounds.
    Nagbe in place of Rowe. Nagbe could use the minutes, similar to Acosta, to become more comfortable within the international game. He could lead during the group phase, than improve his chemistry in the knock-out rounds.
    I don’t care what Wondo brings to the locker-room he does not belong. Take Agudelo for the group round, bringing a spark off the bench. We’re not going to be challenged much in the group round so test the players who could potentially contribute and not a wasted roster spot.
    I’d like Miazga to be there, but I could understand his being left out due to his club situation. Again I’d error on the side of youth/potential over aging experience (Spector).

  2. Acosta and Arriola I hope get plenty of time this summer because they probably have the best shot out of the younger players to stamp their place on the team as regulars going forward. Hedges is in the conversation with miazga also, but there is good depth at the CB position

  3. Given the lack of depth at left back, Tim Ream might get the call to see how he handles speedy wingers when playing there with 4 in the back, or just to reinforce his usefulness as the left back in a 3 back system.

    • Ream is not on the 40 man roster, so he is not eligible to play. Fulham has their first pre-season match on July 5, although I doubt Ream will participate since he has been on Nat team duty, Fulham would probably give him another week or two off.

  4. After Dwyer (and assuming Dempsey and Altidore are out until final rounds) Wondo is the only forward who is a consistent scorer, Agudelo, Morris, and Sapong are all very streaky. Those three can score in bunches or go a month without a sniff. Although with group matches against Martinique and Nicaragua might not be needed.

  5. I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a shocker missing the cut.

    Morris, Zardes, someone like that, who aren’t playing well, aren’t first team, or shouldn’t be.
    Don’t make it until they play better, even though most expect them to be first team eventually.

  6. No need for Zardes or Wondo to be there. Zardes is now looking more average than great, and Wondo just takes a space from someone else. Would much rather see Pontius or McNamarra and Agudelo or any other young forward at this point. Other than that, I am fine with this lineup, time to see if these players are going to be part of the future or not.

  7. The Mexico Liga MX inclusions are interesting. I agree they should be well rested as the regular season ended in late April and the playoffs in mid-May, but the new season (2017 Apertura) starts on July 21, the same weekend as the Gold Cup Semi-Finals.

    For the 2 Tijuana Xolos on SBI’s projected roster (Paul Arriola and Joe Corona), the entire period of the Gold Cup is a crucial time for them to solidify their roles on the team, as they both have been fringe starters. Importantly, with Piojo’s departure to Club América, we have a new manager in Eduardo Coudet so (1) they need to impress the new manager, and (2) they need to learn his new system. Missing the entire month before the club’s first game will really hurt their position with the club.

    I point this out as the article talks about Euro based players not playing because they have to prepare for their club seasons, but gives no consideration of this to our players who play in Liga MX. In Omar’s case, his position is solidified with Pachuca, so playing in the Gold Cup would have less of an effect.

    As much as I want Arriola to start this season for Xolos (I’m a season ticket holder), I would also like to see him further his USMNT career and placement, as he has a shot to make the 2018 World Cup squad. As for Corona, I see him more as a fill in on the USMNT who at 26 will never break into the top tier of the crowded USMNT midfield and is unlikely to be with the team in Russia. So for him, I’d rather he prepare with the club.

  8. “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.”

    If that’s the case, why bring in Wondo? He’s a known quantity. Unless the Bruce is hoping he can come in and produce so as to try to quiet his (Wondo’s) critics.

    • All depends on how Bruce looks at the roster.
      If he thinks Wondo’s training ground/locker room presence is more valuable than adding a player he has already judged not good enough then Wondo would be the more valuable 4th striker. He can be the veteran presence to help guide 3 other prospects rather than fill that spot with Agudelo who he may not consider up to standard.
      If he believes Agudelo may have a good shot to be an asset to the team then the value is with seeing Agudelo in camp and letting the competition sort itself out.

    • Wondo scores goals and reports from former training camps say he scores them in bunches in training. You need a goal-scorer to test the defense in training and Wondo can do that very well. Will he play, maybe, will he be an asset to the team surely.

  9. Leave Zardes out… he has been terrible lately, and needs to stay with the Galaxy to try to get his game back. Zardes could be a good player, but he has lost something over the last year or so, and shouldn’t be in the conversation until he can make an impact at club level again.

  10. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Jesse Gonzalez in the process of filing his one-time switch? That means he wouldn’t even have to be included on the roster, let alone get playing time, to be cap-tied to the US, right?

    • However the reporting last week was that Stu Holden’s report that the paperwork had been filed was incorrect, that he has not turned in his paperwork to FIFA. Mexico was still working hard to prevent that with Osorio making a phone call to him as well.

  11. I feel like the selections above (if you assume only the guys who “made the cut” according to the projection) is going to be a little too experimental for Bruce. I believe actually winning the Gold Cup is a fairly serious priority and Bruce may bring along a couple more of the heavy-hitters for the entire project. One man’s opinion….

    • Arena said not to expect many regular starters to make the initial roster. May bring some in for elimination games, but initially it will be a very experimental roster.

  12. I’m excited to see Hedges on the back line for the US this summer, and it’s much deserved. It’s a shame Walker Zimmerman got hurt because I think we may have seen both of them on the Gold Cup roster. I definitely expect to see Hedges back there though. I’m not sure if Acosta will be a part of the roster or not, but it may not be a bad idea to include him as he’s still inexperienced on the National Team landscape.

    I’d rather see Agudelo than Wondo, but I’m very intrigued to see which forwards get picked. It’ll be pretty cool if it’s Morris, Dwyer, Sapong, and Agudelo. I’m definitely excited to see some of these guys get some big minutes in key situations.


Leave a Comment