The 2017 Gold Cup is an interesting competition. It comes as a last tournament before the 2018 World Cup next summer and seems to the average fan that the US should be fielding their best squad as a toon up for next summer’s opportunity. When you look at the list though, you immediately notice names missing like Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and all of our European stars including Bobby Wood, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin and more. The list looks like a B team and even arguably closer to a C team with names like Gyasi Zardes, Jordan Morris who are having at best mediocre MLS campaigns and names you’ve never seen on a USMNT roster like Kenny Saief, Kelyn Rowe, Dom Dwyer and Justin Morrow.
2017 Gold Cup Roster
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
DEFENDERS (8): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Mexico), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, English Championship), Matt Miazga (Chelsea, EPL), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, Mexico), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana, Mexico), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana, Mexico), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kenny Saief (Gent, Belgium), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)
Knowing all that, what gives? What can Bruce gain from putting a bunch of new players on the field that have never played together. Is he even giving them a fair shake to see what they can do in this situation? Has he turned into Jurgen Klinsmann and putting a purely experimental squad together?
I don’t think so. Arena is methodical in his approach and would never waste an opportunity. I think he has a few goals from this tournament:
Three Goals of Gold Cup
1. Improve his depth
At this point I think Arena mostly has his starting lineup set (opponent dependent as we saw with Mexico). The next step is to improve his depth. Team USA seems to have finally moved on from Beckerman and Wondolowski. I think the next targets to be replaced are Nick Rimando, DaMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and a plan to reduce Clint Dempsey’s need in 2018 and Jordan Morris’ spot is far from secured.
Eric Lichaj, Justin Morrow, Dom Dwyer, Joe Corona, and Kelyn Rowe all fall into the bubble. Jesse Gonzalez is probably a long shot to join this list. Eric Lichaj has a ton of experience playing in Europe and is nearly 7 years younger than Beasley. I think he has a real shot to supplant the historic US figure. Dwyer’s getting his first shot in a US jersey, but he’s also 26. One would think 2018 may be his only shot at getting World Cup action and after Wood, Altidore and Dempsey I think the final striker spot is still up for grabs after poor seasons from both Morris and Zardes. In my eyes both of those players come into this tournament in a dog fight for their spot in 2018. Joe Corona, Kelyn Rowe and Justin Marrow are in the same spot, this may be their last change to capture a deep lying bench spot.
2. Last change to capture and test new young players for qualifying
There are often a few surprise names to crack the roster late just before a World Cup, and there are several I’m hopeful to see break in next year (Cameron Carter-Vickers, Emerson Hyndman, and Weston McKinnie). This list for Gold Cup have a real opportunity to climb up the depth chart and make a case for a spot on the bench next year or even in the fall qualifiers.
Matt Miazga, Christian Roldan, Kenny Saief, Juan Agudelo are all under 24 and have a great chance to crack the lineup in this cycle with a good showing at the tournament. Miazga probably has the toughest job as we currently have a deep veteran centerback group, but that may be to his advantage if Arena wants to add a young player to the mix to gain experience for the future. Geoff Cameron could also slot in at defensive midfielder to make room. Roldan and Saief will be getting their first Caps, the center midfield positions have been influx with Beckerman and Jones seemingly being moved on from and Kelyn Acosta having seemed to grab the opportunity. Behind Bradley and Acosta though it remains to be seen who Arena trusts so there seems to be opportunity here. Agudelo will be fighting with Morris and Dwyer for that last striker spot behind Wood, Altidore and Dempsey unless Arena decides to move on from the legendary striker or an injury opens more doors. He’s had a strong MLS season and can make a case.
3. Solidify his B Team
Arena has several players on here that are seemingly assured of spots on the team next summer: Brad Guzan, Omar Gonzalez, Jorge Villafaña, Kellyn Acosta, Dax McCarty and Alejandro Bedoya. For the sake of the argument above about the spot being fought for I leave Jordan Morris off the secure list. An argument could also be made that Paul Arriola is fairly safe, though when he returns to his club he may be fighting fro first team minutes.
These players will be getting a chance in a meaningful tournament to be the steady hands that the first two groups can rely on to learn how to play under Arena. They have all been in camps and received playing time in games this year. Villafaña and Acosta may have done well enough to earn starting spots next summer. The rest seem to be in a fight for the first sub positions. This tournament could allow them to shine to fight for first team minutes, secure their spots and also help the younger players along as they develop during the games and even in training. Their combined experiences having played overseas, played in the last World Cup cycle and having earned new recent roles on the team should all help this group develop cohesion and improve the next crop of players.
While the Gold Cup roster may disappoint many, especially new fans, know that Arena has a plan and a purpose for it. Also note that once they get through the group stage expect some of those big names to join the team to try to win the tournament. We’ll know more with the elimination roster who has impressed Arena so far in the Gold Cup.