U.S. national team veterans Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, who haven’t taken the field together in nearly five months, will anchor a CONCACAF Gold Cup roster stocked with experience and designed to win a sixth continental title.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been saying for months that his post-World Cup year of evolution and experimentation will end with next month’s continental championship tournament. It’s time to win a trophy. A second successive title would cement the Americans’ regional dominance and a place in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. If the U.S. fails to defend its crown, it will face a playoff against the new Gold Cup champion for a trip to Russia.
“Our approach for putting together the roster for this summer’s Gold Cup, which is very, very important to us, is obviously to do everything possible to win this competition,” Klinsmann said. “Going into a Gold Cup, especially in our region here, experience means a lot. You need players that stay calm in very emotional and very difficult and very tough battles. It can get nasty. Things might not go your way in some moments. So you have to stay cool and you have to always be on top of things.”
Klinsmann selected his team from a 35-man preliminary roster submitted to CONCACAF at the beginning of this month. At the conclusion of the Gold Cup’s group stage (July 7 vs. Honduras, July 10 vs. Haiti and July 13 vs. Panama) he’ll have the option of making six changes, swapping out players on the current squad for one of the 12 left on the provisional. Four moves were permitted in 2013 and Klinsmann used those to considerable effect: Eddie Johnson arrived after the group stage and scored goals in the quarterfinal and semifinal, and Matt Besler started in central defense in all three knockout matches.
Besler, a World Cup starter, was among the dozen left off Tuesday’s group-stage roster, along with Brek Shea, who’s played in six of the national team’s seven games this year, and DaMarcus Beasley, who “unretired” from international play following a recent conversation with Klinsmann. None of the other cuts are particularly surprising.
The U.S. squad features 17 men from the 2014 World Cup team—the most in any of the five Gold Cup tournaments that took place a year after the World Cup. Six remain from the team that tore through the 2013 Gold Cup (Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, Omar Gonzalez, Nick Rimando and Chris Wondolowski) while Dempsey (2005 and 2007), Bradley (2007), Brad Davis (2005) and Brad Guzan (2007) also are former champions.
“I think the experience that players like Brad Guzan, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Chris Wondolowski, Nick Rimando have, just to name a few of them, those guys bring the experience with them to stay calm and get the job done. The Gold Cup really is about getting the job done,” Klinsmann said.
The Americans are coming off sensational exhibition wins over the Netherlands and Germany and will prepare for the Gold Cup with a July 3 friendly against Guatemala in Nashville. The U.S. then will expect to hit the ground running. The national team has advanced to five consecutive Gold Cup finals–winning three–has lost only once in the tournament’s group stage and is 22-3-6 against CONCACAF opposition since the start of 2012.
Here’s a closer look at Klinsmann’s team:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), William Yarbrough (Club León)
Cut: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
Klinsmann announced prior to the recent friendlies against the Dutch and Germans that Guzan, 30, would be the Gold Cup starter despite his benching at Aston Villa. Rimando had been the workhorse. The RSL veteran started the first five U.S. matches this year and five of the six games at the ’13 Gold Cup.
But Guzan stepped in and played well, making several nice saves in each game (11 overall) and maintaining his cool despite several breakdowns in front of him. He might have done better with Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s second goal in Amsterdam, but overall, Guzan looked more than capable of handling Gold Cup opposition. Rimando’s dedication to the cause remains worthy of respect, and if given the opportunity to step in the U.S. won’t skip a beat.
Yarbrough, who made his debut this year, appears to have sealed his place as Klinsmann’s No. 3.
DEFENDERS: Ventura Alvarado (Club América), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers)
Cut: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Greg Garza (Atlas), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Brek Shea (Orlando City)
Besler’s omission is a surprise, but Klinsmann clearly sees enough potential in Brooks and Alvarado that he’s willing to leave the accomplished veteran behind. Both had their share of struggles against the Dutch, but they settled in a bit better as the game wore on against Germany—Brooks especially. They’re young and will make mistakes at the highest level. But the Gold Cup isn’t necessarily the highest level. The experience and chemistry they’ll get in July could mean plenty down the road.
Gonzalez arguably remains the national team’s most complete center back, and Ream, who’s played all of one minute for the U.S. this year but is coming off a second straight “player of the season” performance at Bolton, finally is getting another look. The U.S. is in decent shape at the center of the back four, even with Geoff Cameron’s absence. The defender told ESPN radio recently that his club, Stoke City, asked him to forego the Gold Cup so he could rest and rehab ahead of the 2015-16 Premier League season.
Shea’s absence also comes as a slight surprise. The fact that Johnson is listed as a defender could be an explanation. Shea’s transition from midfield to fullback has been slowed by the needs of his club, Orlando City, and his one-on-one defending still needs work. Johnson is the best outside back at Klinsmann’s disposal and, as much as the manager likes pushing Johnson forward, the U.S. may be best served this summer with the ‘Gladbach man locking down the left flank.
Chandler and Evans can play on the right, as can DeAndre Yedlin, who’s listed as a midfielder on the roster.
If options on the outside dwindle, Beasley—the 2013 Gold Cup captain—is waiting in the wings. He wouldn’t have been on the provisional roster unless he was willing to play and Klinsmann was willing to call him in.
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Alfredo Morales (FC Ingolstadt), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Cut: Joe Corona (Veracruz), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)
The U.S. midfield is loaded with talent and experience, and Klinsmann will have an almost paralyzing number of permutations to sort through. Bradley, who was outstanding in the victories over Holland and Germany, is the only given. He’s at his best in a box-to-box role, and has fared even better with a defensive anchor behind him. Absent Danny Williams, Beckerman is the obvious choice here, although against CONCACAF opponents that are a bit slower in the build-up, Bradley likely will be comfortable alongside several other players.
His second appearance of the tournament will represent his 100th international cap. Bradley will be the 16th U.S. player to reach the milestone.
In Zusi, Diskerud, Bedoya and Morales, the U.S. has players comfortable closer to the wing or in the channels. Bedoya missed out on the games in Amsterdam and Cologne and will be looking to re-establish what appeared to be a regular starting role, while Zardes will be expecting minutes as well after his vastly-improved showings this month. Davis, along with Zusi, will offer a threat from set pieces that the U.S. has been unable to muster on a consistent basis.
Among those missing out on the 35-man preliminary roster are Jermaine Jones, who’s out after hernia surgery, and Gedion Zelalem, the 18-year-old Arsenal prospect who would have been tied permanently to the U.S. with a Gold Cup appearance.
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Cut: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy), Jordan Morris (Stanford University)
Klinsmann finally has his first-choice forwards available, thanks in part to MLS and commissioner Don Garber, who suspended Dempsey for only three games for his notebook-tearing meltdown in last week’s U.S. Open Cup loss to the Portland Timbers. Dempsey’s MLS ban will expire June 28, leaving the U.S. captain with plenty of time before the July 3 game in Nashville (he would have been ineligible to play any competitive soccer while under suspension).
Dempsey hasn’t played for the U.S. since February and missed this month’s friendlies to be with his wife for the birth of their child. Altidore was absent with a hamstring injury.
“It’s something that nobody wants to see. It’s a mistake, and mistakes happen,” Klinsmann said of Dempsey’s suspension. “So, obviously when he comes in next week to Nashville in preparation for our friendly game with Guatemala, we’ll sit down and talk through that and we’ll go from there. It’s something that nobody wants to go through. Nobody wants to get red carded. Nobody wants to get suspended and be in discussion by the fans and the media for a mistake you make. But it’s on the other hand, it’s part of the game too. So we’ll take a little bit of a step back and we’ll discuss it in person in a relaxed way and go from there."
Whether Klinsmann pairs them together or starts Altidore alone up top with Dempsey behind him in a withdrawn, playmaking role will be a tactical storyline to watch—assuming they start. The domino effect on the midfield will be significant in either case.
Jóhannsson continues to show the sort of creative flashes that leave many wondering if he’s the go-to striker of the future, while Wondolowski adds the sort of work rate and knack for finding space in the penalty area that continues to result in goals. He currently ranks second in MLS scoring with eight.
Morris is an interesting omission, if only because the rising Stanford junior has looked so comfortable and confident in his past three appearances. But it’s no surprise he was unable to unseat one of the aforementioned four. There will be plenty of time for Morris, 20, following a crucial Gold Cup.