2017 Gold Cup
Roster Prediction: Dwyer, Saief, Lichaj for Gold Cup
June 13, 2017
WITH THE JUNE QUALIFIERS in the rearview mirror and four fresh points in hand, the United States men's national team is well-positioned to book a trip to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. And since Bruce Arena has now secured eight points from the last four qualifiers, he can now shift his attention to the Gold Cup and look to expand the player pool.
Many established European players are taking the tournament off and it was difficult for Arena to call in many top young players in Europe because the tournament conflicts with the preseason for many players looking to establish their roles overseas.
Despite that, there remains a big opportunity for players to build a case for themselves to be part of the World Cup qualifiers in the fall and perhaps emerge as dark horse candidates for Russia.
Don't expect Arena to go with an entirely experimental squad. In early June he submitted a 40-player preliminary roster for the Gold Cup and this team features more than enough talent to win the regional title. Given that he can replace up to six players on his 23-player roster after the group stage, Arena will be able to look at up to 29 players.
It's unclear how Arena will use his replacement players mid-tournament but a logical solution probably points to more experimenting in the group stages against Panama, Nicaragua, and Martinique. The replacements are likely to be veterans who have been with the team and do not need any time to integrate.
So what will the team look like? Here is an educated guess.
1. Tim Howard
2. Brad Guzan
3. Jesse Gonzalez
The top goalkeepers on this team are entrenched and unlikely to change heading into Russia. The addition of Jesse Gonzalez makes sense since he is filing his one-time association switch from Mexico to the United States and is only going to do so with assurances of getting a shot to prove himself.
Arena might use one of his six replacements to bring in Howard or Guzan at a later stage and look at new goalkeepers in the group stages, but with such weak opponents, how much of a learning opportunity will it be?
4. Eric Lichaj
5. Greg Garza
6. Matt Polster
7. Graham Zusi
8. Matt Hedges
9. Jonathan Spector
10. Steve Birnbaum
11. Matt Besler
All of the defenders listed above have played for the national team with the exception of Matt Polster, who is playing well for Chicago at right back (even though he had previously played mostly as a defensive midfielder). The Graham Zusi experiment at right back has been decidedly mixed but he is a veteran leader. And Arena has indicated he likes what Greg Garza brings to the table.
Eric Lichaj possesses both experience and hunger to prove himself, as he has been on the outside of Klinsmann’s and Arena’s plans so far (although an injury prevented his call-up to the March qualifiers). He can provide cover at both right and left back so he has a clear opportunity to make a strong impression.
The central defenders are known commodities. Jonathan Spector has played well since returning from England while Matt Hedges and Matt Besler were part of the recent qualifying roster despite neither seeing the field.
12. Dax McCarty
13. Kellyn Acosta
14. Alejandro Bedoya
15. Gyasi Zardes
16. Joe Corona
17. Kelyn Rowe
18. Kenny Saief
19. Cristian Roldan
20. Paul Arriola
A lot of the picks here are obvious. Kellyn Acosta has made huge strides for both club and country in 2017. His strong effort Sunday at Azteca Stadium helped his cause and now the Gold Cup could provide even more experience.
Alejandro Bedoya would be the senior statesman of the midfield with experience that includes Ligue 1, MLS, and the World Cup. Gyasi Zardes is healthy and has a good relationship with Arena from their time together with the LA Galaxy. Joe Corona had a very positive Clausura season in Liga MX, where he started for a strong Club Tijuana team.
Kenny Saief is a virtual lock after filing a one-time switch to leave the Israeli program in favor of the United States. He is a huge talent but will require time to integrate given his unfamiliarity with anyone on the team.
On the domestic front, Cristian Roldan would be another dual-national who would be cap-tied to the U.S. with an appearance in the Gold Cup. After establishing himself as a starter for the Seattle Sounders, he appears to be ready for a look.
21. Dom Dwyer
22. Juan Agudelo
23. Jordan Morris
Now an American citizen, English-born Dom Dwyer is surely going to get a look after being one of the most consistent forwards in MLS the past four seasons. Juan Agudelo has been around the program for a long time and might get a multi-game opportunity at the Gold Cup. Similarly, Jordan Morris has been with the national team every camp under Arena but should see more of the field this summer. Currently suffering through a sophomore slump, it will be interesting to see if Morris can return to the high level he established in 2016.
Arena is allowed to make six changes after the group stage and this will be an opportunity for him to bring in more established players who could help the squad push for a trophy. Here are six potential changes.
1. Jorge Villafana for Greg Garza
2. Omar Gonzalez for Steve Birnbaum
3. Darlington Nagbe for Gyasi Zardes
4. Jozy Altidore for Joe Corona
5. Christian Pulisic for Kelyn Rowe
6. Michael Bradley for Cristian Roldan
These moves would upgrade the team quite a bit, and Altidore could replace a midfielder because it would be great to have four forwards for the knockout rounds.
It may not make sense to take Christian Pulisic away from Borussia Dortmund—especially given the club's coaching change—but any opportunity to have him play with Bradley, Acosta, and Darlington Nagbe is worthwhile.
What do you think of Brian's predicted roster? And what about those mid-tournament moves? Share your Comments below.