Stock up, stock down: Grading USMNT's big movers at the Gold Cup
The Gold Cup ended on Wednesday night with a stellar 2-1 win for the U.S. men’s national team over Jamaica.
Thus far, Bruce Arena’s tenure gets a passing mark. He has the longest undefeated streak in U.S. men’s national team history since taking over the team from Jurgen Klinsmann, and now he has a trophy to go with all those positive results.
Winning the Gold Cup was just one main objective of the tournament, however. Arena also brought in several players to evaluate as he puts together an idea of his roster for the World Cup in Russia next summer – provided, of course, the U.S. qualifies.
There were plenty of winners in this tournament and a few players who remained at the same level in the pecking order, but here’s a look at three players that helped their stocks and three who saw theirs drop during the Gold Cup.
Stock up: Clint Dempsey
Wait, what? How could Dempsey, an absolute legend and one of the two best players to ever suit up for the U.S. men’s national team, have helped his stock? Well, it’s simple. Dempsey has proved that not only is he comfortable stepping into a super-sub role, but that he can be quite effective in it.
Dempsey changed the semifinal against Costa Rica when he entered the match last weekend, and he was effective once again coming off the bench in the final against Jamaica, nearly finding the back of the net only to see a header pushed off the post.
Dempsey is 34 years old and he may not be a starter with this U.S. team anymore, but this tournament proved that Dempsey still has a major role for this U.S. team. He’s a threat coming off the bench, and the best one in the U.S. pool, at that.
Stock down: Matt Hedges
Hedges just looked out of his depth at the international level, a surprising development for a player who has been one of the best central defenders in MLS over the past two seasons. His game just hasn’t translated with the national team, and it may be more about speed of thought more than it is anything physical or tactical.
It wasn’t as though Hedges was poor in his performances, he just simply didn’t look as good as he needed to in order to jump others like Omar Gonzalez in the pecking order. He may also have been passed by Matt Miazga in the pecking order, and falling down to five or six in the depth chart is a tough spot for a player who is hoping to get to the World Cup next summer.
Stock up: Kelyn Rowe
Rowe added yet another playmaking type to the national team pool during this tournament, which is exactly what he needed to do. It was a bit confusing when he was released back to his club, especially because Darlington Nagbe didn’t really slot into that role the rest of the way. I think Rowe may have also been a beneficiary of the guy who is next on the list, because it opened up a spot for someone who can slot in as the backup to Christian Pulisic on the first-team roster.
Stock down: Kellyn Acosta
The FC Dallas man came into this camp with a huge amount of momentum and hype behind him, but he failed to really live up to it. Acosta was asked to be a creator as a box-to-box midfielder during this tournament, and it just wasn’t a fit at the international level – at least not yet.
This tournament was probably a good thing for Acosta, who can use it as motivation to continue to grow as a player. Right now, he is best in a 4-2-3-1 where he sits in behind a more creative player and next to a true No. 6. If the U.S. is set on playing a 4-4-2 diamond with Pulisic at the point and two strikers up top, however, Acosta will have trouble breaking through. There’s no doubt Acosta has a bright future ahead, but this confirms he’s not all the way there yet.
Stock up: Dom Dwyer
It’s one hell of a competition at forward, and Dwyer has certainly put himself in the conversation. I’ll continue to argue that Dwyer’s game is a perfect fit for the international level, and I think he’s able to plug-and-play for either Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood.
But Jordan Morris’ play at the tournament and Dempsey’s comfort as a super-sub make this an even tougher depth chart to break into. The versatility of Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson as players able to start in both midfield and at fullback may give Bruce Arena the flexibility to bring another forward, though, and Dwyer is on the radar now.
Stock down: Justin Morrow, Joe Corona, Eric Lichaj
There weren’t guys who hurt themselves in this tournament as much as guys that didn’t help themselves. Justin Morrow, Joe Corona and Eric Lichaj were all “just fine” in this tournament, but it wasn’t enough to pass the guys ahead of them on the depth chart, and I think all three have work to do if they want to break into the World Cup roster.
Right now, usual starting midfielder Fabian Johnson is capable of providing depth at left back, Bedoya and Rowe proved their value in midfield more than Corona and Lichaj failed to unseat the versatile Zusi at right back. This wasn’t about dropping down the depth chart as much as it was about failing to leapfrog the incumbents.