U.S. men's national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has lifted the lid on a couple of notable developments ahead of Copa America Centenario: Jordan Morris will not be on this summer's squad, while Brad Guzan will be his No. 1 goalkeeper.
The U.S. released its final 23-man roster on Saturday, with 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund rising talent Christian Pulisic making the squad, but the 21-year-old Morris missing out. An otherwise established core of veterans will take on Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay in group play at next month's competition.
Klinsmann has turned to 15 players from his 2014 World Cup squad, including captain Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, Kyle Beckerman, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Alejandro Bedoya.
Guzan will be Klinsmann's starter this summer, according to U.S. Soccer, with Howard and 20-year-old Ethan Horvath backing him up. It marks Horvath's first senior national team camp.
Just 10 of the 23 are with the team in its current "transition camp," which concludes Sunday afternoon with a friendly at Puerto Rico before the full Copa team gathers together.
Here is the USA's Copa America roster, followed by some initial thoughts on the 23-man team and some of the 17 omissions from the preliminary roster:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Ethan Horvath (Molde IK)
DEFENDERS: Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham)
MIDFIELDERS/FORWARDS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
OMITTED, ON PRELIMINARY ROSTER (and available in event of injury up to 24 hours before the opening match)
GOALKEEPERS: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Ventura Alvarado (America), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt – ruled out with quadriceps strain), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Tim Ream (Fulham)
MIDFIELDERS: Mix Diskerud (NYCFC), Alfredo Morales (FC Ingolstadt), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC - out 6-8 weeks with a hamstring injury), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Finally, three thoughts on Klinsmann's selections:
The omission of Morris is a stunner
After a slow start to his MLS career, Morris has rounded into form with four goals and an assist in his last five games. Given Klinsmann's affinity for him and his skill set, fearlessness and productivity prior to his professional days, one would've thought that his recent scoring outburst in MLS would've had him safely in the final 23. Instead, it appears that Wondolowski, whose seven goals are one off the MLS lead, has beaten him for the final forward place.
Did Morris's decision to choose Seattle and MLS over Werder Bremen play into this at all? Nobody knows that except Klinsmann, but the fact that he chose a veteran MLS forward would dispute that narrative emphatically.
Klinsmann loves Wondolowski's selfless nature, experience and ability to carve out chances in dangerous areas, but if there's one roster debate that will drive many fans wild, it's this one.
"We believe that players really played their way into that roster, and it’s difficult," Klinsmann said in comments released by U.S. Soccer. "There are some situations that probably the fans will now discuss. Why not Jordan Morris and Wondo is in there? Well, because Wondo proves all the time that he’s just is so hungry for goals, and Jordan is on his way through the ranks coming up."
Without Altidore being available, Klinsmann opted for a player more useful for direct play over one likely to have more dynamic potential.
Fabian Johnson is a defender
Johnson enjoyed a fantastic season with Borussia Monchengladbach, doing his damage from a wide midfield role and scoring six goals (and playing some of his best soccer against Champions League competition). Naturally, it appears he'll be a defender this summer. With a thin fullback pool that features just Yedlin and Chandler as true options, the U.S. staff prefers that Johnson's services are used on the back line.
With that being the case, expect a starting back line of (L-R) Johnson, Brooks or Besler, Cameron and Yedlin against Colombia on June 3.
Meanwhile, the continued reliance on the likes of Orozco and Chandler, who have both exhausted their opportunities without truly showing they are international-caliber defenders at the highest level, remains a head-scratcher. It's in part a product of the fact that the established U.S. fullback pool is thin and both are options on the outside with whom Klinsmann is familiar. Still, it feels a bit like Groundhog Day, and at this point there simply has to be better alternatives ... right?
Klinsmann makes his goalkeeper call
Guzan will start in net for the U.S., putting an end to the goalkeeper tug-of-war between him and Howard. Klinsmann certainly could not have foreseen Guzan and Howard both losing their starting jobs in the Premier League this season, and the "race for the No. 1 shirt" surely has felt more like a battle between the lesser of two evils over the last six months. Guzan fell out of favor at the worst team in England, while Howard did the same at an Everton side that limped to the finish line (and if you saw how Joel Robles played down the stretch, you wonder how Howard didn't start more than the final two home games). It's not what you're hoping for from your defensive leaders entering a major competition.
At his age and being untested on the highest international level, Horvath was never going to unseat the two mainstays, but you do wonder how far he is from competing for minutes. Klinsmann easily could have taken another veteran goalkeeper like Nick Rimando to be more secure about his options, but he chose Horvath. Guzan will handle the reins, with Howard, who quietly cannot be happy about this, eager to step in if necessary this summer. At the very least, there's a new No. 1 contender for both veterans' top status on the road to Russia 2018.
"We decided to really go with Tim Howard and Brad Guzan as the two leaders still, because we believe their experience and their leadership will help us a lot," Klinsmann said. "We brought in Ethan Horvath as a third goalkeeper to build him for the future, to learn from Tim Howard and Brad Guzan but also to get his first taste of what such a tournament means. We go into the tournament with Brad Guzan being the No. 1. That’s been communicated clearly to Tim and Brad. We believe that Brad deserves it. Brad, throughout the last two years, played very consistently and very solid with us.
"He had a very tough year with Aston Villa, there’s no doubt it, but he knows that, and for many, many reasons. But it’s also a different environment. Tim Howard finished a huge, huge chapter in his career with Everton Football Club. He’s always going to be a legend for Everton, and he did wonderful things with that club. But he wasn’t with us for a year after the World Cup, and he also lost his starting spot the last half of the year with Everton, so we think that in that moment Brad has a little bit of an edge and deserves it. Having Tim on board, being there to push Brad, to help him, and obviously if something goes wrong he’s always there anyway, is big for us because his presence and his confidence and his leadership is vital for our group.”