With some cuts coming down to small margins, here's how U.S. players on the Copa cusp have fared in recent matches.
Jurgen Klinsmann submitted his 40-man preliminary Copa América roster at the end of April and must narrow it to 23 by May 20, leaving players whose fate may hang in the balance only three weekend’s worth of games to make an impression.
It’s highly likely the manager already had most, if not close to all, of his Copa team selected. There’s not much that might occur over three weeks that would significantly alter an opinion forged over months or years. But on the margins, where the last men on and the first men off may be harder to separate, recent form could make a difference. Health will be a factor as well. While entrenched national teamers already may have one eye on Copa América, others will be focusing on making a statement or hanging on to their place as Klinsmann makes his final choices.
In addition to paring down the Copa roster, Klinsmann must put together a team for the May 22 friendly in Puerto Rico. There are 19 MLS players on his 40-man list, and those who make the final 23 won’t be available to join up with the U.S. until after their May 20-22 league games.
In addition, Omar Gonzalez, Ventura Alvarado and Edgar Castillo still could be involved in the Liga MX playoffs.
It’s possible, therefore, that a couple players invited to train in Miami during the week of May 16-20 could be trying out for one of the final spots on the tournament team. Of course, there also may be players on the 40-man team who Klinsmann always intended to cut.
There are plenty of moving parts and plenty of ways Klinsmann could go, leaving the players with little choice but to put their best feet forward in the weeks leading up to the May 20 deadline. With that in mind, here's a look at the 40-man team and whose stock is rising and falling, based on recent results, as decision day nears:
David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Ethan Horvath (Molde), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Everton manager Roberto Martinez offered Howard the opportunity to start the Toffees’ final two home games as the veteran prepares to depart for the Colorado Rapids. As of Thursday morning, however, Martinez is ex-Everton manager. Still, with the club having nothing to play for in Sunday’s season finale against relegated Norwich City, Howard will hope the remaining technical staff keeps the promise and that he has the opportunity to say goodbye to Goodison Park, and catch Klinsmann’s eye, with a strong performance.
On April 30, in his first start in more than two months, Howard was beaten from close range in the ninth-minute by an unmarked Marc Pugh but then held on as Everton defeated Bournemouth, 2-1.
Meanwhile, Howard’s Premier League counterpart, Guzan, appears to be done for the season. A rough year with a brutal Aston Villa squad ended early for Guzan, who’s been on the bench for the past two games while Mark Bunn takes over. Villa will end its EPL run on Sunday at Arsenal. After getting shelled throughout the season and dealing with noise like this, Guzan surely will relish the chance to compete for minutes with the U.S., not to mention a change of scenery.
Neither Rimando nor Bingham has separated himself from the pack during the first third of the MLS campaign, while Horvath is getting his season started with Molde FK in Norway. It’s been eventful. The 20-year-old shut out Sevilla in the second leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie in February (Molde lost on aggregate). He also was red carded in Sunday’s 3-3 tie with Haugesund. Molde is in second place at 6-1-3 and travels to third-place Odds BK on Monday.
Although Horvath is a promising prospect, the current uncertainty surrounding Guzan and Howard makes it more likely—at least for now—that Klinsmann will lean toward a more veteran third goalie.
Stock rising — Nick Rimando
Stock falling — David Bingham, Ethan Horvath
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Ventura Alvarado (Club América), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)
Klinsmann is a big fan of Brooks and no doubt will be pleased that the imposing center back returned from a three-week injury layoff and won more than 80% of his aerial duals in Hertha Berlin’s 2-1 loss to Darmstadt last weekend. A good shift in the season finale at Mainz should put Brooks on the path toward a starting role next month.
While it’s a lock that Cameron also makes the final 23, one could imagine Besler, Gonzalez or Orozco missing out. Besler’s Sporting KC is in free fall (0-5-2 in its past seven) and the captain didn’t dress for Wednesday’s defeat in Colorado. And while Orozco is watching the Liga MX playoffs after finally returning to action late last month, Gonzalez is a regular for second-place Pachuca, which was scheduled to open the Liguilla Thursday night at Santos Laguna.
The English Championship season having concluded, Ream and Lichaj will hope to get a chance to prove themselves in Miami. There aren’t many questions at right back, however. Yedlin’s consistent contribution to Sunderland’s escape from the relegation zone puts him in perfect position to start the Copa América.
Edgar Castillo made a statement on Wednesday night, coming on at halftime and getting the assist on Monterrey’s crucial third goal in a 3-1 first-leg win at reigning Liga MX champ Tigres UANL. After two years away from the national team, Castillo’s World Cup qualifying starts in March and role on the top-seeded Rayados leave him in improved position.
Stock rising — John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Edgar Castillo, Omar Gonzalez, DeAndre Yedlin
Stock falling — Kellyn Acosta, Ventura Alvarado, Matt Besler, Matt Miazga, Michael Orozco
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
The Jermaine Jones phenomenon is real. The Colorado Rapids, for several years the most featureless of MLS clubs, now leads the pack thanks in part to the force of nature that is the “kampfschwein” (or “fighting pig”, according to fans at his former club, Schalke). Colorado was a very respectable 3-2-1 before Jones was eligible to suit up, and it’s an impressive 4-0-1 since. And Jones has been dominating more than the space between the penalty areas. He’s already got three goals and two assists.
“That’s why I tweeted out, “new #9 now??” – A new goal scorer,” Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer’s website. “You know that’s not his main purpose. He’s a box-to-box player. He’s a midfielder that drives the energy and the aggressiveness from our end, so we are looking forward to having him for the Copa America.”
That means figuring out how to deploy Jones and Bradley in the same midfield, which often is a challenge, and may rule out using a stay-at-home No. 6 like Beckerman, who typically makes the U.S. much tougher to break down. Beckerman will make the 23, but Jones’s resurgence may damage the Real Salt Lake captain’s hopes to start.
Bedoya also has put himself in frame for a significant role at the Copa after scoring his fifth goal in all competitions for FC Nantes in its season finale. The issue for Klinsmann is where to play him—underneath the forwards like Bedoya does in Ligue 1 or further toward the flank like he often does with the U.S.
Johnson may wind up playing left back if no better option emerges, although he’d rather play in outside midfield. Of more pressing concern is the player’s groin, which has kept him out of action since April 24. Klinsmann may choose to go easy on Johnson during camp and the first couple of friendlies in order to have him in full health for the Copa opener on June 3. His quality isn’t in question. He was under consideration for Bundesliga team of the season.
At home, Nguyen had his first two assists of the season in New England’s 2-2 draw against Orlando City on April 30, but the Revolution are struggling. The same is true for Zusi’s SKC. Nagbe also has only two assists for Portland, which has lost two in a row. He’s the most skillful of the three, but also has the least amount of international experience. Diskerud, meanwhile, is seeing his Copa prospects dwindle. He hasn’t started for New York City FC since April 16.
Stock rising — Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones
Stock falling — Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Fabian Johnson, Lee Nguyen, Graham Zusi
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Klinsmann could be facing down a problem unprecedented for U.S. national team coaches—too many in-form forwards. The decisions here will be brutal, as stocks are rising across the board except in Toronto, where a scoreless Altidore still should be planning to make the final 23. His starting spot, however, could be in danger.
Morris, the rookie, has goals in four straight games for Seattle. His Sounders teammate, Dempsey, notched a beauty in Saturday’s 2-0 win over San Jose. Wondolowski sent a penalty kick off the post in that game and is scoreless in his past three but still is tied for the MLS lead with seven goals.
Wood was brilliant for Union Berlin, scoring 17 times, and the 17-year-old Pulisic possesses a comfort and creativity on the ball rare for U.S. players. Most observers seem to agree that the rising Dortmund star will make the Copa team. Klinsmann is a big fan of both Zardes and Finlay, but he likely can’t take both. There’s room on the 40-man team, but not on the final roster. Zardes has four goals and four assists while Finlay has one and two for the crumbling Crew.
"The easiest way to measure things is with strikers—you want to see them score goals,” Klinsmann said. “So seeing Jordan Morris scoring four in a row, Clint Dempsey being back on the score sheet, and Bobby Wood with 17 goals in the 2. Bundesliga in Germany is big. But you want them to stay hungry, to be there and to put a stamp on the game in their club environment because you want them to come into the very short preparation period for the Copa América with a lot of energy and with a lot of confidence, but also with a level of aggressiveness that gives us the foundation for a successful tournament.”
Stock rising — Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Gyasi Zardes
Stock falling — Jozy Altidore, Ethan Finlay, Chris Wondolowski