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Why Wondolowski at Copa America makes sense for USMNT

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jurgen Klinsmann's most controversial snub from the Copa America roster is Jordan Morris, but Paul Tenorio understands the coach's selections.

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What should be the ultimate goal of a national team roster?

That’s the question I wanted to ask when I first took a look at the U.S. men’s national team squad for this summer’s Copa America Centenario.

It’s easy to find fault in any roster, but that judgement will always be determined by what you deem important in the squad selection. When it comes to an international tournament, I believe a coach should ditch the idea of balancing the present with the future and aim to put together the best possible team for that specific competition.

That’s why I don’t have many issues with Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster.

If Klinsmann felt Wondo was a better fit and in-form, that outweighs the future benefits of including Morris."

The biggest beef among fans of the U.S. men’s national team is the decision to leave Jordan Morris at home in favor of Chris Wondolowski, a forward who will likely not take part at the World Cup in 2018. Why sacrifice the valuable experience Morris could pick up in a tournament like this one? If Klinsmann felt Wondo was a better fit and in-form, that outweighs the future benefits of including Morris.

It’s the same reason why, for example, it was ludicrous to bring Julian Green to the World Cup over Landon Donovan. There is no way you could sell to me that Green made the USMNT better than Donovan would have for the 2014 World Cup.

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

By the same token, judging Wondolowski’s presence on the roster should consider the soccer impact only, not what effect it might have on Morris’ readiness in two years in Russia…if he’s there.

I don’t mind the move from a soccer standpoint. Wondolowski has seven goals in 11 games this season, among the best in MLS. He’s also a poacher who will cause problems with his off-the-ball movement and is a real nuisance in the box, something the U.S. lacks on the roster otherwise. Morris brings many of the same qualities already on the team with Bobby Wood, Gyasi Zardes and, to some extent, Clint Dempsey. Wondolowski is a forward who can play underneath a striker in a 4-4-2 and work off of Wood or Dempsey.

Wondolowski is also a striker who knows how to find pockets off the back shoulder of center backs, a quality that will be especially valuable if the U.S. plays a 4-3-3 and looks to get service from the wings from overlapping fullbacks DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson.

Outside of Klinsmann’s choice up top, there were a couple other surprises in the team:

  • I’m interested to see how things work with Timmy Chandler included on the roster. Clearly Klinsmann will look to Johnson and Yedlin as the starters there, an unfortunate sacrifice of what Johnson brings as a winger. Chandler has not impressed in his appearances with the U.S., and Eric Lichaj’s abilities are a good fit for what Klinsmann likes in his fullbacks.
  • Tim Howard as a back-up. It’s hard to judge this move. Both he and Brad Guzan were on the bench at points this EPL season, and neither is in as good of form as they have been in the past. Guzan certainly has more to gain by being in the shop window during the tournament. You have to wonder whether Klinsmann is considering that in this decision – and you would hope not.
  • Klinsmann clearly valued versatility on this roster. Guys like Johnson, Michael Orozco, Graham Zusi, Zardes, Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe can play multiple spots on the field. Zusi was very good for the U.S. in the last World Cup qualifier against Guatemala, and Klinsmann’s trust in the SKC man helped give him the edge in midfield.

We’ll get a better idea of what Klinsmann is thinking this week as the squad plays friendlies against Ecuador and Bolivia. The biggest question is how he lines up the midfield, and I’m especially interested to see if Klinsmann gives Nagbe a chance to be a featured player in the team.

New York is very red

It was mid-April and the New York Red Bulls were 1-6 and at the bottom of the MLS standings.

Just a few days after returning from Colorado, where New York had just lost its fourth consecutive game, the team’s leadership council met with head coach Jesse Marsch. They had to find answers. They had to fix things – and soon.

“We just said we’re wiping the slate clean,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty recalled. “We’re putting the beginning of the season behind us. In a sense it was like we started a new season.”

The memories of that start could not have felt more distant this weekend. The Red Bulls demolished their rivals, NYCFC, at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. The 7-0 scoreline was as much an internal statement for those in the “red” locker room as it was a message to those wearing the blue.

Since that meeting after the Colorado loss, the Red Bulls are 4-1-1. The lone loss, to D.C. United, was a bad one, but the Red Bulls in the last month have looked much more like last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners.

Each goal against NYCFC was almost like a penance for the team’s seven losses this year.

“I think [Saturday’s] performance against NYCFC is the culmination of a lot of frustration throughout the season,” McCarty told FourFourTwo. “The culmination of continuing to work in practice and not giving up in things we believe in, and that make us a good team and make us who we are. … It almost felt like nothing went wrong, it felt like the perfect game for us, if you can play one.”

Just about everything did go right for the Red Bulls, and it started with McCarty’s first goal, on a header. McCarty would score on another header later in the game, something he’s done with great efficiency in his MLS career. (“I don’t know why Alexi [Lalas] is giving me such a hard time for getting my head on it,” McCarty joked, after the Fox broadcaster lambasted NYCFC for allowing the shorter midfielder to score on two set pieces.)

The Red Bulls pressed high and caused turnovers deep in NYCFC territory, converting the high press into goals. They punished NYCFC on set pieces. They didn’t take their foot off the gas, and just about everyone got in on the act.

Most importantly, as McCarty pointed out, the Red Bulls turned in a second consecutive shutout and a solid defensive performance. A back line that was among the major issues early in the season has been solidified by the addition of Aurélien Collin, and McCarty praised how well Collin has fit into the locker room and helped to organize the defense on the field.

Everything seems to be coming together for New York, and it has made the early-season rut feel like a different season altogether – just what that post-Colorado pow-wow aimed to accomplish.

“That meeting reset everything,” McCarty said. “We reset our goals for the season, we needed to reset our mindset and it was kind of just a fresh start. … Once we did that it was good to have that sense of the season starting over again. It was important for us and the whole team has responded really well.”

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