6 players who have made their case to be part of the USMNT's Gold Cup
The next CONCACAF Gold Cup is two months away. Between here and there is another pair of World Cup qualifiers – high-wire acts in their level of tension, more critical than most of us would like at this point.
But let’s not let laziness or complacency set in; let’s get ready for all of this summer’s international soccer.
U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena hopes to be in position to deploy two different rosters, the way Jurgen Klinsmann did in 2013; the “A” team for World Cup qualifiers, and a second group for Gold Cup.
In some ways, the Gold Cup roster is the more interesting one. After all, we pretty much know Bruce Arena's top 10-15, don’t we? With all that in mind, let’s take a look at five fringe players who absolutely deserve a shot on the U.S. roster for this year’s Gold Cup, whether that’s because they have earned it on merit or they play a position of need.
Matt Hedges, FC Dallas center back
No player has been the victim of a more toxic combination of bad luck and perhaps bad coaching. Klinsmann had the FC Dallas center back in camp two years ago but used him as a right back in Hedges’ only appearance. Arena brought him to the January camp and seemed to be quite pleased with how the 2016 MLS Defender of the Year was coming along, but a minor injury took him out of the camp.
Back quickly, Hedges has been outstanding once again in 2017, ever calm in reading the game and in timing the tackle. He remains a big reason FC Dallas never needs a bundle of goals to win; FCD is 36-1-14 over the last three years when it scores two goals.
Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City center back
His situation is similar to Hedges in that injuries have damaged his national team chances. In Opara’s case, it’s long-term ailments that have prevented him from reaching top gear over an extended period. Well, he’s there now, and few players in MLS can patrol the back line with his combination of brain and athleticism. He is a huge part of the reason Sporting KC shares the lead in fewest goals allowed.
(And a quick shout here to Chelsea center back Matt Miazga, who is currently on loan to Vitesse, having just completed an outstanding season with the Dutch club. His only problem right now: the two center backs we just mentioned, Hedges and Opara. Truly, this is a deep position for Arena.)
C.J. Sapong, Philadelphia Union forward
What might Sapong’s numbers and performances look like over the last couple of years if he wasn’t at Philadelphia, a team with just two MLS victories since last August? He has probably been the Union’s top player in that time, and last weekend’s hat trick was a cherry on the sundae.
The thing about Sapong: As we all remember from 2014, when Jozy Altidore goes down, there’s no hold-up player in the U.S. shirt. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes are ahead of Sapong but aren’t target strikers. And we know Bruce Arena likes to have one of those as option.
You could possibly insert Juan Agudelo into this role; he’s playing well this year for the Revolution. And we’ve all marveled at his upside for years, now. But even though he’s still young (24), it’s really difficult to get past this: in five full seasons in Major League Soccer, Agudelo has never scored more than 7 goals.
All that is to say, Sapong looks like a promising solution.