With a focus on players who “have done so much for the national team program that they understand exactly now what this is all about,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann on Saturday unveiled the 23-man squad that will play Mexico on Oct. 10 for CONCACAF’s berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
The playoff between the past two continental champs is a mammoth match for the Americans, who finished a miserable fourth in this summer’s Gold Cup. A victory next week at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, will help erase that stain and likely will quiet the questions surrounding the U.S.’s progress under Klinsmann. The eight-team Confederations Cup offers the only opportunity outside the World Cup to play teams from beyond CONCACAF in official competition, as well as a sneak peek at Russia a year in advance.
With so much at stake, Klinsmann is relying on experienced, in-form athletes. The 23 players named Saturday were pulled from a 35-man preliminary roster submitted in mid-September. Defenders Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks, midfielder Mix Diskerud and forward Aron Jóhannsson are the most prominent players who failed to make the cut.
Klinsmann called the playoff “a game that for the next two or three years to come is probably the biggest game,” the U.S. will play. The manager, who boasts a 5-0-5 all-time mark against Mexico as a player or coach, made it clear that the result may impact the national team’s long-term trajectory. It very well may mark a threshold between eras.
“I think it’s really an interesting moment now because you have a core group of players that are kind of running out of time and I just want them to just embrace that moment,” Klinsmann said. “All these guys in their thirties, they need to realize, ‘You know what? I may not be getting these opportunities any more. This is it. We better take that trophy.’ However it looks like, we’ve got to go and get this thing. This is really about chemistry and getting the group together and making it a really special atmosphere the whole week leading into the Rose Bowl moment.”
Here’s a closer look at Klinsmann’s team, which will gather next week for training in Southern California:
Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Klinsmann already has anointed Guzan the starter against Mexico. Howard and Rimando will push the Aston Villa man in practice and will provide sure-handed relief if necessary. In March 2013, Guzan shut out Mexico at the Estadio Azteca in a World Cup qualifier.
Cut: Bill Hamid
Ventura Alvarado (Club América), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)
Gonzalez is the most surprising omission from the roster. The LA Galaxy veteran did well at the 2014 World Cup and played every minute in each of the four most recent matches against Mexico, during which the U.S. yielded only two goals combined. He’s come through before in big games against El Tri, but Klinsmann felt there were other defenders in better form.
“The competition is very, very tight,” the manager said. “Not having Omar Gonzalez or Mix Diskerud on this roster, for example, is not because they are not good enough. It’s just because you see another player that is better in their position right now in this specific moment. Those are always tough decisions that a coach has to make.”
John Brooks, who Klinsmann preferred at the Gold Cup, has been battling injury since playing for the U.S. in the Sept. 4 friendly against Peru (first a thigh, now an ankle). His absence, along with Gonzalez’s, leaves Alvarado, Besler and Cameron at the top of the center back depth chart.
Alvarado had a rough Gold Cup and spent most of September on the bench at América, but Klinsmann remains a big fan of the 23-year-old.
Klinsmann has said that his top choices at outside back are Beasley, who’s been capped just twice since the World Cup, and Johnson. Spector, whose brief appearance in the 4-1 loss to Brazil on Sept. 8 was his first in a U.S. shirt in more than three years, has earned another call-up. Along with Tim Ream and Brad Evans, Spector can play in several spots along the back line.
Cut: John Brooks, Greg Garza, Omar Gonzalez
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Klinsmann has invested a lot of energy and minutes in Diskerud, who’s demonstrated an ability to make the sort of play that changes a game but hasn’t had a consistent impact this season with New York City FC. He’s a surprising omission from the 23-man team but was always unlikely to start against Mexico.
Bradley and Beckerman have started in the middle in the past two USA-Mexico games, during which Klinsmann has deployed a four-man, diamond midfield. But Jones’s return gives the coach myriad additional options.
Zusi and Bedoya have more experience, but Yedlin finally has broken through at Sunderland and offers more speed and danger on the dribble on the flank.
Zusi, arguably the group’s most comfortable player on set pieces, just helped Sporting KC win the U.S. Open Cup, while the versatile Bedoya has been starting regularly at Nantes.
The midfield alignment, and how Klinsmann apportions the playmaking duties between Bradley and Clint Dempsey, will be a huge factor against Mexico.
Cut: Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Alfredo Morales, Lee Nguyen
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Dempsey remains the national team’s most consistent scoring threat. He has nine international goals this year, more than twice as many as an other U.S. player. Altidore (four goals) still possesses a unique and vital skill set and Zardes has emerged as Klinsmann’s most promising new player. Wondolowski, meanwhile, keeps chugging along. He’s MLS’s leading U.S.-eligible scorer, again, and likely will be an option off the bench if the hosts need a late goal.
Jóhannsson has been dealing with a groin issue, according to reports. Klinsmann said the Werder Bremen forward “is not 100%.” Stanford University junior Jordan Morris, who scored his first senior international goal against Mexico in April, is currently playing in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament with the U.S. U-23 team. He was named to the playoff preliminary roster as cover for a potential injury.
Cut: Alan Gordon, Aron Jóhannsson, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood
Mexico, meanwhile, has unveiled a 25-man team that will be reduced to 23 publicly on Monday. Among the names listed by interim coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti are Galaxy forward Giovani dos Santos and Gold Cup MVP Andrés Guardado, whose availability is in question thanks to an ankle injury suffered on Sept. 15. PSV Eindhoven originally said that the midfielder would miss four to six weeks, which would rule him out of the Oct. 10 playoff. But his inclusion may indicate that Guardado is winning his race against time.
Veteran Rafa Márquez also is on the list despite the groin injury he suffered while playing for Hellas Verona in Italy. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the Gold Cup starter, has missed out.
All seven of El Tri's players who have participated in this season's Champions League group stage, including Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, are among the players in the mix.
Here is Mexico's roster in full:
GOALKEEPERS: Moisés Muñoz (América), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jonathan Orozco (Monterrey)
DEFENDERS: Rafael Márquez (Hellas Verona), Diego Reyes (Real Sociedad), Miguel Herrera (Pachuca), Héctor Moreno (PSV), José Arturo Rivas (Tigres), Paul Aguilar (América), Israel Jiménez (Tigres), Miguel Layún (Porto), Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres)
MIDFIELDERS: José Juan Vázquez (León), Jonathan Dos Santos (Villarreal), Héctor Herrera (Porto), Carlos Esquivel (Toluca), Andrés Guardado (PSV), Javier Aquino (Tigres), Carlos Peña (León), Jesús Corona (Porto)
FORWARDS: Javier Hernández (Bayer Leverkusen), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad), Oribe Peralta (América), Raúl Jiménez (Benfica), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
The Year in Photos: U.S. Soccer in 2015
U.S. U-20 vs. El Salvador, January 24
Paul Arriola (7) celebrates his goal in a World Cup qualifying playoff match vs. El Salvador. The U.S. U-20s cemented their place in the World Cup with a 2-0 win. They drew host New Zealand, Ukraine and Myanmar in their summer group.
USMNT vs. Chile, January 28
Bobby Wood flies high in the USA's 3-2 loss to Chile, which opened the calendar year for the national team. Brek Shea and Jozy Altidore scored in the loss.
USMNT vs. Panama, February 8
Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey celebrate after combining for a goal against Panama at StubHub Center to cap off winter training camp with a 2-0 victory.
USWNT vs. France, February 8
Lori Chalupny (left) and the USWNT had a tough time keeping pace with Jessica Houara (center) and France in a 2-0 loss in a friendly in Lorient. The match was the first of two played without suspended goalkeeper Hope Solo.
USWNT vs. England, February 13
Alex Morgan celebrates scoring the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over England in a friendly at Stadium mk in Milton Keynes.
USWNT vs. Norway, March 4
The USWNT opens the Algarve Cup with a 2-1 win over Norway, marking Hope Solo's return from a 30-day suspension with a come-from-behind victory. Carli Lloyd scored both goals for the Americans.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, March 6
Alex Morgan celebrates her goal in the USWNT's 3-0 win over Switzerland in the Algarve Cup group stage.
USWNT vs. Iceland, March 9
Alex Morgan and the USWNT were frustrated by Iceland, held to a 0-0 draw to wrap up group play at the Algarve Cup. The result was still enough to put the Americans in the final against France.
USWNT vs. France, March 11
The U.S. women's national team celebrates winning the Algarve Cup after a 2-0 triumph over France. Julie Johnston and Christen Press scored, and Hope Solo saved a penalty kick.
U.S. U-17 vs. Jamaica, March 15
The U.S. U-17 national team celebrates qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup after defeating Jamaica on penalty kicks following a 0-0 draw in a playoff match.
USMNT vs. Denmark, March 25
U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando expresses his frustration after one of Nicklas Bendtner's three goals in Denmark's 3-2 win over the Americans. Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson scored for the USA.
USMNT vs. Switzerland, March 31
Jozy Altidore watches as Brek Shea hits a perfect free kick to put the USA on the board against Switzerland. The Americans settled for a 1-1 draw.
USWNT vs. New Zealand, April 4
Lori Chalupny (16) celebrates her goal vs. New Zealand with Lauren Holiday at St. Louis's Busch Stadium. The goal opened the floodgates for a late outburst en route to a 4-0 U.S. victory in front of more than 35,000 fans.
USMNT vs. Mexico, April 15
Jordan Morris etched his name in U.S.-Mexico lore, as the Stanford University forward scored in his first senior national team start to break a scoreless draw against El Tri at the Alamodome.
USMNT vs. Mexico, April 15
Juan Agudelo collapses to the ground in celebration after his goal at the Alamodome gave the USA a familiar lead over Mexico: Dos-a-Cero.
U.S. U-23 vs. Mexico, April 22
Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil captains the USA to a 3-0 win over Mexico at StubHub Center in Olympic qualifying preparation for both CONCACAF favorites.
USWNT vs. Ireland, May 10
Abby Wambach celebrates one of her two goals vs. Ireland as the USWNT took a 3-0 win on Mother's Day at Avaya Stadium.
USWNT vs. Mexico, May 17
Sydney Leroux is congratulated by her teammates after one of her two goals in a 5-1 pre-World Cup rout of Mexico at StubHub Center.
U.S. U-20 vs. Myanmar, May 30
Maki Tall celebrates his equalizer for the USA as part of a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Myanmar to open the U-20 World Cup group stage in New Zealand.
USWNT vs. South Korea, May 30
Carli Lloyd gets off a shot through traffic in the USA's final World Cup send-off friendly, a 0-0 draw against South Korea at Red Bull Arena.
U.S. U-23 in Toulon Tournament, May-June
Alonso Hernandez, left, takes on Qatar, while Julian Green, right, vies for the ball against France in the Toulon Tournament as part of Olympic qualifying preparations.
U.S. U-20 vs. New Zealand, June 2
Gedion Zelalem controls the ball against New Zealand in the USA's 4-0 win that cemented a place in the U-20 World Cup knockout stage.
U.S. U-20 vs. Ukraine, June 5
From left, Joel Soñora, Gedion Zelalem and Rubio Rubin show frustration during a 3-0 loss to Ukraine that wrapped up group play in the U-20 World Cup.
USMNT vs. Netherlands, June 5
DeAndre Yedlin and Danny Williams salute each other after the latter's goal–his first international strike–brought the U.S. level with the Netherlands at 3-3 in the 89th minute.
USMNT vs. Netherlands, June 5
Bobby Wood puts the finishing touch on an epic comeback, with his 90th-minute strike capping a wild 4-3 win for the USA over the Netherlands. The USA trailed 3-1 in the 71st minute.
U.S. U-23 vs. England, June 7
USA defender Boyd Okwuonu makes a tackle on England's Duncan Watmore in the Toulon Tournament third-place game. The U.S. U-23s won 2-1, sealing their best finish in the tournament.
USWNT vs. Australia, June 8, WWC
Megan Rapinoe lets out a yell after her second goal, which sealed the USA's 3-1 win over Australia to open Group D play in the Women's World Cup.
U.S. U-20 vs. Colombia, June 10
Rubio Rubin celebrates the goal that gives the USA a 1-0 win over Colombia in the FIFA U-20 World Cup round of 16. Zack Steffen's late penalty save preserved the win, as the Americans reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
USMNT vs. Germany, June 10
Michael Bradley was everywhere against World Cup champion Germany, assisting on Mix Diskerud's equalizer and commanding the midfield in a 2-1 win in Cologne.
USMNT vs. Germany, June 10
For the second straight game, Bobby Wood came off the bench and scored a stunning winner. He watches his long-range blast beat Ron-Robert Zieler in a 2-1 win over world No. 1 Germany.
USWNT vs. Sweden, June 12
Julie Johnston wins the header in a dominant showing on the U.S. back line, helping the Americans preserve a 0-0 draw against Sweden in the second game of the Women's World Cup group stage.
U.S. U-20 vs. Serbia, June 13
U.S. players' emotions say it all after a gut-wrenching loss to Serbia in penalty kicks at the U-20 World Cup. After a 0-0 draw, the Americans fell 6-5 in PKs, despite Zack Steffen's two saves in sudden death.
USWNT vs. Nigeria, June 16
Abby Wambach leaps for joy after scoring in the 45th minute off Megan Rapinoe's corner kick, which delivered a 1-0 win to the USA and first place in Group D of the Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Colombia, June 22
Alex Morgan's goal broke a 0-0 draw, provided relief after Abby Wambach's PK miss and helped the U.S. women to the World Cup quarterfinals after a 2-0 win over Colombia in the round of 16.
USWNT vs. China, June 26
While Carli Lloyd (10) celebrates her goal in the distance, stalwart center backs Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn rejoice in the goal that put the USA into the semifinals of the Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Germany, June 30
Carli Lloyd yells in celebration after scoring the penalty that put the USA up over Germany en route to a 2-0 victory in the Women's World Cup semifinals.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, July 3
DeAndre Yedlin and Jozy Altidore, wearing special jerseys with stars-and-stripes numbers for July 4, celebrate after a Guatemala own goal gifts the USA a 1-0 lead during a 4-0 win in Nashville, Tennessee, prior to the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
Carli Lloyd sets the tone with a third-minute goal in the Women's World Cup final against Japan, the first of her three strikes within 16 minutes that lifted the USA to a 5-2 win and its first title in 16 years.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
U.S. players rush the field after the final whistle, which sealed their 5-2 triumph over Japan and a record third World Cup title.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
Victorious, the U.S. women's national team raises the World Cup trophy for the third time, but the first in 16 years, after completing a 5-2 win over Japan in the final at Vancouver's BC Place.
USMNT vs. Honduras, July 7
Clint Dempsey leaps in celebration of his second goal in the USA's Gold Cup opener against Honduras. The Americans won 2-1, fending off a late Honduras surge to collect all three points in the start of their title defense.
USA vs. Haiti, July 10
Clint Dempsey (8) is congratulated by his teammates after a 47th-minute goal gave the USA a 1-0 win over Haiti in the Gold Cup. Gyasi Zardes, second from left, came on at halftime and assisted, and the win clinched first place in Group A.
USMNT vs Panama, July 13
Clint Dempsey, left, and Michael Bradley, right, celebrate after the latter's goal in the USA's 1-1 draw vs. Panama, which wrapped up group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
USMNT vs. Cuba, July 18
The U.S. men put on a clinic against an overmatched Cuba in the Gold Cup quarterfinals, with Clint Dempsey's hat trick leading the way in a 6-0 rout. Gyasi Zardes, Aron Johannsson and Omar Gonzalez also scored.
USMNT vs. Jamaica, July 22
A downtrodden Clint Dempsey and Jurgen Klinsmann walk off the field as Jamaica celebrates a stunning 2-1 win over the USA in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.
USMNT vs. Panama, July 25
Michael Bradley walks away in dismay after having a penalty saved in a PK shootout in the USA's loss to Panama in the Gold Cup third-place game. After a 1-1 draw, Panama prevailed 3-2 in PKs, the USA's first shootout in 10 years.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, August 16
Meghan Klingenberg waves a Terrible Towel in her hometown of Pittsburgh after scoring one of the USA's many goals in an 8-0 rout of Costa Rica in its first game since winning the 2015 Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, August 19
Alex Morgan and Kelley O'Hara celebrate during a second rout of Costa Rica in three days, this one a 7-2 win in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
USA U-23 vs. England U-21, Sept. 3
U.S. U-23 goalkeeper Zack Steffen looks on in disappointment as England U-21 forward James Wilson celebrates with Duncan Watmore after scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 friendly win in England.
USMNT vs. Peru, Sept. 4
Jozy Altidore, right, is congratulated after one of his two goals that sparked the USA's come-from-behind win over Peru at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
USA U-23 vs. Qatar, Sept. 8
Gedion Zelalem made his U-23 debut off the bench in the USA's 2-0 win over Qatar in England in the final tune-up before Olympic qualifying
USMNT vs. Brazil, Sept. 8
Neymar and Marcelo celebrate while DeAndre Yedlin and Ventura Alvarado look away in disgust during Brazil's 4-1 rout of the USA at Gillette Stadium.
USWNT vs. Haiti, Sept. 17, 20
Carli Lloyd scored hat tricks in both games and NWSL Golden Boot winner Crystal Dunn scored her first international goals as the USWNT beat Haiti 5-0 and 8-0 in a pair of friendlies in Detroit and Birmingham, Alabama. Haiti replaced on-strike Australia as a last-minute opponent.
USA U-23 vs. Canada, October 1
Jerome Kiesewetter, left, and Emerson Hyndman, right, sandwich Jordan Morris after his first-minute goal in the USA's 3-1 win over Canada in their Olympic qualifying opener.
USA U-23 vs. Cuba, October 3
Cameron Carter-Vickers gets congratulated by Jerome Kiesewetter and Emerson Hyndman after opening the scoring in a 6-1 rout of Cuba in their Olympic qualifying match. The USA cemented its place in the semifinal round with the win.
USA U-23 vs. Panama, October 6
There was plenty of credit to go around, as the Americans finished off a perfect group run in Olympic qualifying with a 4-0 win over Panama. Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter came on at halftime and provided the spark needed to seize the three points.
USA U-23 vs. Honduras, October 10
Wil Trapp's reaction says it all, as the USA failed to secure an automatic berth to the 2016 Olympics after falling to Honduras 2-0 in the semifinals of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament at Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Captain Michael Bradley leads the USA out onto the field ahead of the Americans' CONCACAF Cup playoff vs. Mexico at the Rose Bowl.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Geoff Cameron beats Rafa Marquez to the spot and heads home a 15th-minute equalizer off a free kick from Michael Bradley, negating a Chicharito goal five minutes earlier in the CONCACAF Cup playoff between USA and Mexico.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
U.S. forward Bobby Wood celebrates his 108th-minute goal vs. Mexico that brought the Americans level at 2-2 after Oribe Peralta had given El Tri the lead in extra time. That reprieve would only last for 10 minutes, though.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Jermaine Jones falls to his knees in disappointment as Mexico celebrates after Paul Aguilar's sensational volley in extra time captured the CONCACAF Cup for El Tri and sends the U.S. rival to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
USA U-23 vs. Canada, October 13
Marc Pelosi (15) celebrates after his goal breaks the deadlock and sends the U.S. U-23s on their way to a 2-0 win over Canada in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying third-place game. The U.S. still has a chance to reach Rio, but it'll have to go through Colombia in a playoff.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, October 13
Tim Howard can't watch as Costa Rica players celebrate Joel Campbell's goal in a 1-0 friendly win at Red Bull Arena. The match marked Howard's return to the U.S. goal for the first time since the 2014 World Cup round of 16.
USA U-17 vs. Nigeria, October 17
Victor Osimhen scores for Nigeria in a 2-0 win over the USA in the teams' FIFA Under-17 World Cup opener in Chile.
USA U-17 vs. Croatia, October 20
USA U-17 midfielder Christian Pulisic watches his opening goal find the back of the net in the Americans' 2-2 draw with Croatia at the World Cup. The U.S. led 2-0 on Pulisic's goal and assist to Brandon Vazquez, but the European side mounted a furious rally to salvage a point.
USWNT vs. Brazil, October 21
Shannon Boxx, right, passes off the captain's armband to Carli Lloyd in her final act as a player, riding into retirement in the first half of a 1-1 draw against Brazil in Seattle.
USA U-17 vs. Chile, October 23
USA U-17 captain Hugo Arellano sits dejected after a 4-1 loss to host Chile eliminated the Americans from the World Cup in the group stage.
USWNT vs. Brazil, October 25
The USA said goodbye to two more veterans, with Lauren Holiday, left, and Lori Chalupny ending their careers during a 2-1 win over Brazil in Orlando. The team improved to 5-0-1 on its World Cup victory tour with the win.
USWNT at the White House, October 27
President Barack Obama welcomes the World Cup-champion USWNT to the White House, honoring their triumph in Canada.
USMNT vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, November 13
Jozy Altidore watches one of his shots head toward goal in the USA's 6-1 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the opening of 2018 World Cup qualifying. Altidore scored twice, as the USA overcame a shocking early deficit and won at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
USMNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago, November 17
Gyasi Zardes and the U.S. men were held to a 0-0 draw by Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, closing the year with a World Cup qualifying and sitting atop Group C in the semifinal round via goal differential tiebreaker.
USWNT vs. Trinidad & Tobago, December 10
Christen Press triumphantly raises her hand after a goal during her hat trick in a 6-0 rout of Trinidad & Tobago at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
USWNT vs. China, December 13
Crystal Dunn leaves her feet to settle a pass in the USA's 2-0 win over China at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Dunn and Christen Press scored the goals.
USWNT vs. China, December 16
Abby Wambach is introduced in the U.S. lineup for the last time at the Superdome in New Orleans, playing in her final match before retiring. She ends her U.S. career with 255 appearances and an international-record 184 goals.