The 5 USMNT regulars who could become ringers at the Gold Cup
U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena named his 23-man roster for the Gold Cup on Sunday, and that roster will push forward into the tournament when it begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.
According to Gold Cup rules, however, a total of six changes may be made in the 24 hours after group play ends and ahead of the knockout phase. Arena must pick those players from the 40-man preliminary roster he named in early June. That means 17 players are available to join this team for the knockout round. While injuries and issues may impact who Arena calls up, here is our look at five names that make the most sense once the U.S. is out of the group stage.
5. Michael Bradley, midfielder
Dax McCarty will get every chance to prove he can be an international-level starter at the No. 6 role. If he plays up to his potential and matches the way he’s been performing for the second-place Chicago Fire, Arena may opt not to bring in his regular captain.
But as Bradley normally wears the armband for the U.S. men’s national team, it’s a likely bet that Arena will summon his top leader to help push the U.S. through to the final and to add another Gold Cup trophy to the Americans’ haul. Bradley will expect to be the starter in September for qualifiers and at the World Cup in 2018, so it makes sense for Arena to continue to get him time in the midfield as he tries to get guys to jell, especially if he sees a Bradley-Acosta pairing as the future.
4. Jozy Altidore, forward
If there is any position that looks light on the U.S.’ current Gold Cup roster, it’s the forward spot. Arena brought just three forwards to the team, though Gyasi Zardes is listed as a midfielder and could easily play up top. Considering Jordan Morris’ shaky form so far this season for the Seattle Sounders, and the fact that Dom Dwyer will be making his international debut, it’s a safe bet that Arena opts to add another forward or two to the mix, especially as the competition ramps up later in the tournament.
Altidore is in fine form for both club and country, and he’s a perfect fit for any U.S. system Arena opts to employ, whether it’s a hold-up striker in a 4-2-3-1, a partner in a 4-4-2 or even as the central piece in a 4-3-3. Plus, the coach may want to see the Altidore-Dwyer combination, especially since Dwyer is often employed as a lone striker for Sporting Kansas City.
3. Jesse Gonzalez, goalkeeper
The FC Dallas goalkeeper has applied for his one-time switch from the Mexican federation, which would lock him in to the U.S. national team for his international career. Gonzalez may be the future of goalkeeping for the U.S., especially as the team continues its search for the next man up after Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.
Arena has said he could call Howard into camp in the knockout phase, but even if he does, he may look to release Guzan back to his new club, Atlanta United, and also phase out either Bill Hamid or Sean Johnson for an opportunity to get a closer look at Gonzalez, who has once again locked up the starting job in Dallas. This will all depend on the FIFA paperwork going through, but once it does, it makes sense for Arena to bring Gonzalez in for a closer look and to get the transition to the American group underway.
2. Darlington Nagbe, midfielder
Nagbe has essentially nailed down a starting role with the U.S. under Arena, earning quality minutes in crucial World Cup qualifiers. Despite that, he’s still a relative newcomer to the international game, and getting him minutes in the biggest games of a tournament is going to be a good learning experience for the Timbers star.
Nagbe also adds something this roster is lacking: a creative midfielder capable of dictating the game in the final third. If the U.S. wants to mix up formations, he’s a natural replacement for a shuttling or wide midfielder to give the U.S. more attacking flexibility in the knockout rounds. It can’t be emphasized enough that this is the type of experience that could pay off next summer at the World Cup.
1. Clint Dempsey, forward
Dempsey may be nearing the end of his career, but he’s also nearing the U.S. men’s national team’s all-time goal-scoring record, and the Gold Cup is a natural place for Dempsey to pass Landon Donovan on the scoring charts. Dempsey has scored a dozen times in Gold Cup play, behind only Donovan in the U.S. record book. And Dempsey is a strong veteran presence to bring into a group with a lot of new faces.
Dempsey also adds the sort of playmaking ability as a withdrawn striker that doesn’t really exist in this current Gold Cup roster, and he’d be a good complement for players like Dwyer and Altidore, if the latter is added in knockout round. This might also be the perfect stage to audition Dempsey in a super-sub role and see if he is comfortable enough coming off the bench to play that role in Russia next summer.