For the U.S. men's national team and coach Gregg Berhalter, the euphoria sparked by last month’s Concacaf Nations League triumph has made way for pragmatism.
The vast majority of the skillful young squad that defeated Honduras and Mexico in dramatic fashion is being rested ahead of the new European club campaign and the September start of World Cup qualifying. As a result, those players won’t get a crack at winning the upcoming Gold Cup, Concacaf’s most prestigious trophy.
Instead, the 16th continental championship tournament will be contested by an MLS-heavy roster (19 of 23) that Berhalter unveiled Thursday morning. Featuring a mix of domestic veterans and youth from both MLS and Europe, it will be the closest thing to a ‘B’ team that U.S. Soccer has fielded at the Gold Cup since 2009, when a squad containing 16 players with five caps or fewer went 4-0-1 before getting hammered by Mexico in the final.
The 23 men on the 2021 Gold Cup team average 13 caps, and the list includes five players who will have the chance to earn their first: Gianluca Busio, Matthew Hoppe, Donovan Pines, James Sands and Eryk Williamson. Conversely, there are also four Nations League winners on the team: Kellyn Acosta, Reggie Cannon, Sebastian Lletget and Jackson Yueill. Berhalter will look to them, as well as veterans like Paul Arriola, Brad Guzan, Cristian Roldan and Walker Zimmerman, for leadership and key contributions during a long month of Concacaf competition.
The U.S. will be based in Kansas City, Kan., during the Gold Cup’s group stage. The Americans will open the tournament on July 11 with a game against the survivor of a playoff between favored Haiti, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Bermuda and Barbados. Next comes Martinique on July 15 and then Canada on July 18. All those games will be played at Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park.
A top-two finish in the group stage will send the USA to the quarterfinals on July 25 at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas. A trip there is practically certain. But a third consecutive appearance in the final and a seventh title are less so, considering the more modest roster and the relative quality being called in by reigning champ Mexico, among others.
Berhalter said the roster was designed with two goals in mind: competing for the Gold Cup and building out the squad that will try to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Depth will be vital during qualifying, which features four compressed, three-game windows between September and March 2022 (plus one standard two-game window). The U.S. will need more than its young, talented core to reach Qatar.
“When we were looking at both the Gold Cup and the Nations League, we were thinking about one big roster picture, not two separate rosters. The idea was to prepare our entire player pool in a competitive Concacaf format for World Cup qualifying,” Berhalter said. “When you look at this roster, it's basically another group of players that are going to get the opportunity to compete to win a trophy. By the end of this tournament, we're going to have virtually the entire player pool prepared for World Cup qualifying.”
Even if the likes of Acosta, Arriola, Lletget and Zimmerman don’t make headlines like their compatriots playing in the UEFA Champions League, their familiarity with Berhalter’s approach will be an asset, the manager added.
“When you look at some of these core guys … these are guys that have been in over these last two years and have been major parts of the team,” he said. “Although it's a young team, we think it's an experienced team and we're looking forward to getting even more experience in a Concacaf competition.”
Nine members of this Gold Cup roster have taken part in a previous Concacaf championship and six have won it.
Here’s the USMNT's Gold Cup team:
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Defenders: George Bello (Atlanta United), Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Shaq Moore (Tenerife), Donovan Pines (D.C. United), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), James Sands (New York City FC), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Forwards: Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Daryl Dike (Orlando City), Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen), Matthew Hoppe (Schalke 04), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
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