- Now that the group stage is over, the competition gets that much tougher. Here's how the U.S. men's national team will look as it heads into the knockout rounds of CONCACAF's Gold Cup.
Bruce Arena is going for gold. The U.S. national team coach was afforded the opportunity to swap up to six players on his CONCACAF Gold Cup roster following the first round, which ended Saturday evening. Not only is he using all six slots—he’s enlisting the help of at least five World Cup-quality starters who should help transform the USA from a team that strained to top an underwhelming group to a team that should be considered the Gold Cup favorite.
Mexico, for example, intends to keep its current roster intact. Meanwhile, captain Michael Bradley, forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and goalkeepers Tim Howard and Jesse Gonzalez are in for the USA. They’ll join Arena’s squad ahead of Wednesday’s quarterfinal in Philadelphia against either Honduras or El Salvador (the matchup will be determined Sunday evening when group play concludes).
Heading home are goalies Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson, midfielders Alejandro Bedoya, Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe, and forward Dom Dwyer.
Arena had always intended to mix, match, overhaul and experiment during the group stage, with an eye on getting a close look at players beyond the national team core. It was a chance to see who might help during four critical World Cup qualifiers later this year and perhaps further down the road. In that sense, this Gold Cup group stage was a success.
Each of the 20 field players got a look and the last one to do so, defender Matt Miazga, was the one who scored the 88th-minute goal against Nicaragua that clinched first place. But the fact the Americans (2-0-1) needed that late header to overhaul Panama (2-0-1) on the goals-scored tiebreaker is indicative of how hard results were to come by. The U.S. looked second best during significant stretches of a 1-1 tournament-opening draw with Panama. Arena’s team then blew a two-goal, second-half lead against Martinique (1-2-0) before bouncing back with Jordan Morris’s game-winner. In Saturday’s finale, the Americans struggled to impose themselves and missed two penalty kicks against overmatched Nicaragua (0-3-0).
"We have added some experienced players to the roster that can help us in the knockout round of the Gold Cup. The players leaving all made a good impression, and I'm optimistic for their future with the national team program,” Arena said on Sunday.
Here’s a look at the changes and at where Arena’s 23-man now roster stands as the USA reinforces itself for a run at a sixth Gold Cup crown.
Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)
In: Jesse Gonzalez, Tim Howard
Out: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson
Gonzalez’s decision to file for a one-time international eligibility switch from his parents’ native Mexico to the USA was big news prior to the tournament and certainly could be a boon to the program from 2019 onward. But the next couple weeks and the next 12 months are still about Guzan and Howard. The former, minus one mistake against Martinique, looked very good during the Gold Cup’s first two games. The latter now will take over as the knockout rounds beckon.
Guzan will depart to get started at his new club, Atlanta United, while Johnson will head back to New York City FC. Hamid, who played Saturday night, remains, and if healthy would seem to have the inside track at a No. 3 role behind the two entrenched veterans.
Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Arena had the option to add Steve Birnbaum, Greg Garza, Matt Polster and/or Jonathan Spector but opted to stick with what he had. The USA yielded three goals across its three group-stage games.
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
In: Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe
Out: Alejandro Bedoya, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe
Bedoya was one of Arena’s more valuable players during the group stage, whether it was for his work rate against Panama or his attacking contributions the past two games. But his second child is due, and the Union veteran is heading home to be with his wife and family. Nagbe is the obvious replacement. Meanwhile, Bradley’s arrival knocks Roldan from the depth chart in the middle. He’ll return to Seattle and warrants a more extended look at the next January camp.
Rowe showed a couple of intriguing flashes during the group stage, most notably when he set up Dom Dwyer’s goal against Panama with a beautiful settle and sombrero in the left corner. Rowe also scored against Nicaragua. But with Nagbe and Dempsey—two creative players who enjoy finding pockets between the opposition midfield and back four—coming in, it appears the New England Revolution catalyst was squeezed out. But Arena's decision to send Rowe back to Boston and keep both Joe Corona and Chris Pontius may raise some eyebrows.
Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
In: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey
Out: Dom Dwyer
Dwyer’s departure will disappoint some. He was a great story—his career hung by a thread when he arrived in the USA from his native England to play junior college soccer in Texas. He went on to win USL, US Open Cup and MLS Cup titles. He married a US women’s star, earned his American citizenship and scored on his international debut last month against Ghana.
But with Altidore and Dempsey waiting in the wings, the bar was going to be a lot higher for Dwyer than anyone else on the roster. Both Altidore and Dempsey do most of their attacking from the middle or the channels, and so does Dwyer.
Unfortunately, it was a numbers game for the Sporting striker.
With Besler and Zusi remaining with the national team, at least Kansas City fans will be glad to have Dwyer back.
Morris’s impressive performance against Martinique, and the versatility he brings as a player who can stretch a back four and attack from deeper or wider spots, keeps him in camp. Agudelo offers similar attributes.