Dike, Acosta, Cannon, and Lletget top the USMNT 2021 Gold Cup roster
July 01, 2021
UNITED STATES national team head coach Gregg Barhalter announced his roster for the 2021 Gold Cup and, as expected, the roster drew heavily from MLS and contains a blend of youth and experience. Only five players on the roster were part of the team that was part of the Nations League and the subsequent friendly against Costa Rica.
The U.S. team claimed the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League earlier in June after an intense 3-2 extra time victory over Mexico in the final. That roster contained many of the team’s top players from Champions League-caliber teams.
The Gold Cup roster meanwhile was going to dig deeper into the player pool to expand the options Berhalter could have for the World Cup qualifiers starting in the fall.
Camp will open this weekend in Kansas City ahead of its first game against a preliminary game winner on July 11 with all three of its Group B games at Children’s Mercy Park. .
- July 11: United States vs. winner of Preliminary Match 7
- July 15: United States vs. Martinique
- July 18: United States vs. Canada
The top two teams from Group B will advance to the quarterfinals in Arlington, Texas and face corresponding teams in Group C (Jamaica, Costa Rica, Suriname, and a preliminary winner).
Here is the roster Gregg Berhalter named along with some thoughts.
Matt Turner (New England Revolution), Sean Johnson (New York City, FC), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)
Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Shaq Moore (CD Tenerife), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), James Sands (New York City FC), Donovan Pines (DC United), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids), George Bello (Atlanta United)
Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Jackson Yueil (San Jose Earthquakes)l, Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City)
Paul Arriola (DC United), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew), Nicholas Gioacchini (SM Caen), Matthew Hoppe (Schalke 04), Daryl Dike (Orlando City SC)
A Blend of Experience and Youth
There are some that might wonder why players like Sebastian Lletget, Walker Zimmerman, Paul Arriola, Kellyn Acosta, and Gyasi Zardes were brought into this team when Berhalter already knows what they bring to the team. There are a lot of reasons it makes sense.
For one, this is a competitive tournament that the U.S. team wants to still win, even without the Champions League caliber players. Second, there are really only a limited number of experiments that a manager can make on a roster an actually learn anything. If the entire roster is an experiment, everything will look like a disjointed mess.
This roster still contains a lot of fresh faces with players who are either in their first call-up or have only have a handful of friendly caps – Sands, Busio, Dike, Turner, Gioacchini, Moore, Vines, Bello, Robinson, Hoppe. It’s also a young team with 13 of the 20 field players would have been eligible for the Olympics this summer. To have a balancing effect with a bunch of veterans that keep the standard USMNT experience and culture together, it will give the young players a proper introduction to what the USMNT is all about – as opposed just a highly experimental team that has no resemblance of a normal USMNT environment.
Players with most to gain
Moving forward when Berhalter will have his entire player pool at his disposal, the competition to make rosters will be intense. The player pool has grown dramatically deeper the past two years and Berhalter has multiple options at most positions.
All the players on the Gold Cup roster have a unique opportunity to improve their standing in the player pool and be part of the team moving forward. It’s a tough task but here are the players with the most to gain from this tournament.
Matt Turner: The New England Revolution goalkeeper is one of the best in the league in his position and has only one cap. He has a lot of momentum coming into the Gold Cup and he will now have a chance to show how he compares with the two mainstays in Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath – neither of whom have a starting job in Europe.
Miles Robinson: The Atlanta United central defender is has been in the U.S. national team player pool dating back to 2019 but only has three caps due to playing behind more established players. But the central defense pool has competent players but the backup positions are still up for grabs with so many players moving to new clubs or not having clear starting jobs. Robinson will get the chance to start in this tournament and build his resume.
Sam Vines: The Colorado left back was one of the few bright spots on the U.S. U-23 team this spring and is generally consistently strong for Colorado. He is a smooth passing, left-footed player and there aren’t many of them in the pool. If Sergino Dest plays right back, Berhalter’s only real left back option has been Antonee Robinson – who also might be moving to a new club after Fulham’s relegation. Vines has an opening to compete for a left back position – which has historically been shallow for the U.S. team.
Eryk Williamson: The Portland Timbers midfielder was one of the most controversial cuts from the U.S. U-23 team in the spring and now Williamson will have the chance to show U.S. Soccer what they missed by leaving him off that team. He has been playing well lately for Portland using his skill on both sides of the ball to help that team.
Daryl Dike: The Orlando City forward is one of the most anticipated players on the roster and he has had a great 2021 with his outstanding loan to Barnsley in the Championship and his promising return to Orlando this past month. He was actually cut from the Nations League roster with Berhalter selecting Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok instead. It’s possible for Dike to overtake both Pefok and Sargent with an impressive Gold Cup and he will get that chance.
Nicholas Gioacchini: The attacker had a tough ending to the season with SM Caen as he fell out of favor with his coach and the club narrowly avoided relegation out of Ligue 2. He’s a better player than that and has played well for the national team so far. The Gold Cup will give him two big opportunities. First, he can impress Berhalter with his versatility to play wing and center forward. That could open doors for World Cup qualifiers. Second, he is likely looking for a new club and the Gold Cup could give him a valuable chance to boost his resume and move to a better club than SM Caen.
For the future
Berhalter’s roster also includes several players who, while it might be tough for them to make the team for qualifiers in 2021, have a bright future and can use this tournament to gain valuable experience early in their careers.
Gianluca Busio: The 19 year old has been very good for Kansas City this season as he has drifted back to a playmaking No. 6 and typically gets between 90-110 touches a game. The questions is whether that role translates to the full national team? The U.S. team still needs defense, pressing, duel-winning, and players that can close down space. Busio is clearly going places in his career and a transfer this year seems likely. But how will Berhalter find room for him?
Matthew Hoppe: The Schalke forward impressed at times for a very bad team whose relegation was pretty much known weeks into the season. It remains to be seen if he will stick with Schalke in the 2.Bundesliga or look for greener pastures. On the USMNT, Hoppe is behind a lot of other center forwards now – Sargent, Dike, Pefok, and Zardes. Long term, however, he certainly has a chance once he becomes more of an established profession. In this tournament, expect him also to see time at the wing position.
George Bello: The Ghana-born Bello should have been the U.S. U-20 World Cup starting left back this year but a Gold Cup invite is still an great opportunity. Now in the midst of some transfer rumors (Galatasaray being the latest), Bello probably enters this camp as the backup to Vines – which is fair. But Bello has a big upside if he can improve with his defensive positioning. He’s terrific on the ball and is a very interesting long-term prospect.
James Sands: The NYCFC central defender/ defensive midfielder has been overlooked a lot recently. He was not even in the running for the U.S. U-20 team in 2019. He didn’t make the 2021 U.S. U-23 team. Meanwhile Sands, who turns 21 next week, has continued to be solid at the club level and offers a lot of defensive bite – something the U.S. team needs.
As with every roster, there are some interesting and revealing cuts. For this tournament, however, Berhalter has said that he is considering the circumstances players are in for their clubs and he doesn’t want to take someone away from an important preseason. For those reasons, some players have declined invites to the Gold Cup or Berhalter has declined to select them.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of players entering pivotal preseasons and that has limited the availability of many European players. Luca de la Torre, Julian Green, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Cameron Carter-Vickers are just a few of the names that probably would be on this team if they were in settled club situations.
Also, the players not selected to this tournament are going to stand out and probably cause increased angst among fans more than normal due to the fact that U.S. youth national teams continue to be dormant. For very young players, if they are cut from the full national team, they are not involved at the moment. So when Justin Che, Cade Cowell, or Caden Clark (who is unavailable anyway due to an appendectomy) aren’t named to this team, they aren’t playing for U.S. Soccer. That’s a tough situation because typically youth places were always still involved even if they weren’t part of the USMNT.
Here is a list of the most notable omissions.
Chris Mueller: The most significant and striking cut on the entire roster (among those who are available) is Chris Mueller. The U.S. player pool is thin on wingers and Mueller had a great 2020 with Orlando city. He started off rough in 2021 but has gotten back on track recently in June. His resume compares very favorably compared with other wing options who made the roster.
Justin Che: The FC Dallas central defender/right back has only started his career at the first-team level but the fact he was called-up to the Switzerland friendly in May created hope that he would be a Gold Cup option. He impressed on his loan with Bayern Munich in early 2021 and is certainly one of the top 2003-born American players who should be a stalwart of the U.S. U-20 team this upcoming cycle – whenever that starts.
Leon Flach: The Philadelphia Union defensive midfielder has been very solid under Jim Curtin since joining in March and should have been on the U.S. U-20 team this year. He looks like he’s on track for a U.S. national team future but is still only starting his pro career. He has a great soccer IQ and defensive bite to his game. Unfortunately, it was a numbers game with deeper defensive midfielders and he lost out to Acosta, Yueill, Busio and possibly Williamson.
Cade Cowell: The talented 2003-born winger has performed well for San Jose this season but is still raw. It seemed that due to the wing position being thin, Cowell might have a shot. But if Mueller was cut, Cowell likely didn’t stand much of a chance of making it. His cut probably wouldn’t stand out so much if the U-20 team was active.
Julian Green: Green was called up to the U.S. team in May but didn’t play against Switzerland. That made it seem as if the Gold Cup was a possibility. But he’s also an key player for Greuther Furth which was just promoted to the Bundesliga and will have difficult task of avoiding immediate relegation. His omission was likely due to club requirements as he is at an important period in his career.
Kyle Duncan and Julian Araujo: Reggie Cannon is the most experienced and best fullback on this roster who brings Nations League experience. But Kyle Duncan and Julian Araujo are two of the best American fullbacks in MLS this season and both have realistic ambitions to move abroad. Their resumes compare favorably to Shaq Moore at the moment.
The roster has an interesting blend of experience and youth. The experienced players – Walker Zimmerman, Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta, Gyasi Zardes, Cristian Roldan, Paul Arriola, and even Reggie Cannon (who is still just 22 but has experience of being part of the main core) will all have to lead the way. They should also be very hungry to do so as none of them have a secure place on the national team heading into the fall.
Meanwhile, the younger players and the newer players will also have a lot on the line and it will be interesting to see how they respond.
The fullback position is strong. Cannon is an experienced right back. Vines has earned this chance for an extended look.
Central defense should have Zimmerman and Robinson start. That should also be a steady presence in the back. The backup options, however, have far more question marks. With John Brooks, Mark McKenzie, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream having played in the Nations League while Chris Richards, Cameron Carter-Vicker, and Erik Palmer-Brown have unsettled club situations and Aaron Long out injured- central defense depth is truly tested. But Zimmerman and Robinson is still a strong combination with all things considered.
Center forward is also solid. Daryl Dike is about as strong of an option as you could hope for in this tournament with Zardes, Hoppe, and Gioacchini also providing options.
Deeper central midfield is also pretty good. Kellyn Acosta is a key backup option for Tyler Adams right now and that is important. He also brings experience winning the Nations League final to this team. While Roldan is more of a No. 8 and hasn’t always played well for the USMNT, he is playing better for Seattle this season and is a big reason that team continues to play well despite not having Nico Loderio and Jordan Morris for most of the season.
Finally, goalkeeper with Matt Turner is also strong and he has earned this big opportunity. If he can carry his form from New England into this tournament, he should do well.
Midfielder playmaking is a concern at the moment. This is going to come down to Sebastian Lletget who has an enormous role in this tournament to create for others. After him, the playmaking in the midfield isn’t as great and would require more withdrawn players like Williamson and Busio to push forward.
The attacking from the wing is the biggest concern for this team. Paul Arriola is still finding his rhythm after missing most of the 2020 season due to a torn ACL. Jonathan Lewis has had a lot of opportunities but is still yet to turn the corner to being a big contributor. After that, it will require either Hoppe, Gioacchini, or even Zardes to play out wide out of position.
Can the U.S win the Gold Cup?
This U.S. team is not the favorite to win the Gold Cup and that makes sense when looking how most teams are bringing most of their top players. The U.S. team is instead using the tournament to expand its player pool – which is necessary given the injury history of many players and the fact that the three-game qualifying windows will force teams to rotate squads.
To win the Gold Cup, it is going to require every player to be on his game. Many of the players who are on the fringes of call-ups for the qualifiers will have to play better than they typically do. Defeating Mexico still requires a lot to go right – even when players like Pulisic, Dest, McKennie, Reyna, and Adams play.
Being the underdog, however, might suit this team well and the fact that none of the players are locks with the U.S. team should hopefully lead them to play with hunger and a chip on their shoulders.B