It's not yet fully known who is going to be suiting up for the first Concacaf Nations League final four, but there's at least a rough guideline.
Concacaf released the preliminary, 40-man rosters for the USA, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras, who will be contesting the final four early next month in Denver. The USA will face Honduras in one semifinal, while Mexico will face Costa Rica in the other on June 3 before the third-place game and final on June 6, putting a cap on the first competition of its kind in this region, one dragged out by an extra year due to the pandemic.
Given its time on the calendar, and given the start of World Cup qualifying in September, it was long expected that this tournament, and not necessarily the July Gold Cup, would be the one that brought out the A-team squads from the contenders. A glance at the preliminary squads would indicate that it appears to be the case.
The rosters will be whittled down to 23 one week before the start of the competition, but before then, here's a closer look at the most intriguing and telling elements from the preliminary squads for the U.S. and Mexico (all four can be seen here), and what they might mean for this competition and beyond:
Tight turnarounds for key U.S. players
Zack Steffen, Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Daryl Dike and Reggie Cannon could all be considered starters vs. Honduras, but all could be jetting across the Atlantic in a hurry to join the group ahead of the semifinals.
Steffen and Pulisic are going to be tied up with the Champions League final, which comes on May 29—a day before the USA's tuneup friendly vs. Switzerland in St. Gallen. That still leaves a few days to travel, link up and train, but it's tight.
Sargent and Dike could find themselves in a different kind of stressful environment that same day, with relegation and promotion playoffs potentially beckoning for them and their clubs.
As of Wednesday, Sargent's Werder Bremen is only out of the Bundesliga's relegation playoff place on goal differential, with the threat of automatic relegation still realistic as well. In a brighter turn of events, Dike's Barnsley is in the promotion playoffs—thanks in large part to the on-loan Orlando City forward's contributions—and if it gets through to the final, it'd limit his time before linking up with the U.S., too.
Cannon's Boavista is in a similar position to Sargent's club, currently sitting in Portugal's Primeira Liga relegation playoff place, a point away from safety in one direction and two points away from being sent down in the other. The date for Portugal's pro/rel playoff is presently unlisted, but with the regular season ending May 19, it stands to reason that the timing would be similar to playoffs held elsewhere in European leagues.
It all adds up to plenty of opportunities for others vs. Switzerland—and potentially even more in the semifinal vs. Honduras.
Mexico appears to have won the Efraín Álvarez race
Álvarez, the 18-year-old LA Galaxy midfielder, being listed on Mexico's preliminary roster indicates that his decision over his international future has been decided—or that Mexico thinks it has been, anyway. If he makes the final squad and appears in a Nations League match, then he'll be cap-tied to El Tri, and that'll be that for his dual eligibility.
A couple of months ago, both the U.S. and Mexico named him to their provisional Olympic qualifying squads, indicating a true tug of war over his services. He appeared for neither team in that competition, instead going to Mexico's senior national team camp—with the backing and encouragement of U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter—and earning his first senior cap in a friendly. It was in December that Álvarez had appeared in a U.S. camp, though to appear for the USMNT in a match, he would need to file for a FIFA one-time switch. That'll all become moot if he makes Mexico's final squad and plays in Denver, but if he does not, then the door will remain open.
Gold Cup could be telling for USA, Mexico veterans
Both the U.S. and Mexico have turned the page in a lot of ways since the last World Cup cycle, with the natural progression of younger players up the ranks and the natural fading away of veterans manifesting itself in how Berhalter and Tata Martino have crafted their squads.
So while it should be no surprise that the likes of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Javier Hernández and Carlos Vela are not included for the Nations League, even on 40-man preliminary squads, it could speak volumes for their futures if they're also omitted from this summer's Gold Cup, when more domestic-based talent is likely to feature. (Vela's future is admittedly bleaker than Chicharito's given he hasn't appeared for Mexico since the 2018 World Cup; Chicharito last played for El Tri in September 2019 but is in scorching scoring form with the LA Galaxy).
Altidore was in line to play at the end of January camp before a minor injury and a hint of a transfer (which never followed) ruled him out of a friendly, while Bradley hasn't played for the U.S. since an October 2019 Nations League loss to Canada. The door won't be fully shut until either player declares international retirement, but with World Cup qualifying on the horizon, if either is to play a part in the fall, then you'd think that a call this summer would be a prerequisite.
Berhalter indicated the need to rotate his squad given the three-match windows in this qualifying cycle, so the need for bodies is there. Whether they can climb high enough up the depth chart remains the big question.
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