ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: Is there really beef between Yura Movsisyan and Mike Petke? Maybe. The guys break down everything you need to know about Week 16, then Sounders duo Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan join Andrew to chat about being BFFs, MLS Cup and the possibility of teaming up at Gold Cup for the US national team. Subscribe so you never miss a show!
This is an exercise in futility at least a little bit, because between now and this weekend – when the Gold Cup roster is announced – there could be injuries, or sudden bursts of form, or a meteor strike. And because, after the group stage, Bruce Arena could dismiss a bunch of guys and bring in some old heads should he decide he really needs to win this thing.
That being said, I'll bet large sums upon: There will be roster changes after the group stage. So familiarize yourself with the whole of the 40-man USMNT preliminary squad, and now let's pretend that I have a prayer of being right about the (first) group of 23 to be called in for the job in July:
GOALKEEPERS:Tim Howard (Colorado), Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
One of Howard or Brad Guzan will be on this squad partially as a way of mentoring the guys who've got next, and I picked Howard here because it'll give Guzan more time to settle in with Atlanta United.
Gonzalez, if he's serious about switching, is a no-brainer, and Hamid is still the most talented shot-stopper in the pool. I'd be happy if those two guys split duty in the group stage.
CENTER BACKS:Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Jonathan Spector (Orlando City SC)
This is a huge opportunity for Hedges (and apparently a good summer for defenders named "Matt), who has a chance to prove he can fill two roles – both the vocal organizer and the backline aerial heavy. I've written before that nobody in the pool has a bigger opportunity at their feet than Hedges, and I still believe that.
Miazga really will need to be somewhere from the start of preseason, but my guess is he gets the group stage to throw his name into the ring before heading off to parts unknown (probably to West London before a loan somewhere – let's all hope for mid-tier Bundesliga). Besler's place is obvious, and Spector's play for the Purple Lions thus far screams for his inclusion. His savvy, passing and organizational skills could be useful over the next 13 months, even if he's an extreme long-shot to make the World Cup roster.
Omar Gonzalez gets the month off, while Steve Birnbaum hasn't played well enough in 2017 to merit inclusion.
LEFT BACKS:Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United)
That's a non-zero chance Morrow uses this camp to show that looking past him for the better part of a decade was a colossal mistake on the part of US soccer. His endline-to-endline ability is undeniable, as is his flexibility in terms of both position (fullbacks, wingback, even ad hoc center back are in his bag) and formation. Something to keep in mind now that Bruce is willing to use a 3-5-2 in big games, right?
Garza doesn't have the top-end athleticism or positional flexibility that Morrow does, but he's so smart (volume up for analysis):
Both of these guys are competing for the back-up job behind Jorge Villafaña, who probably needs to go win his starting job with Santos Laguna all over again because that's just how things work in Liga MX.
RIGHT BACK: Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire)
Lichaj should already have 50 USMNT caps, but oh well. If he plays as well as he's capable of this summer, then the US no longer have depth issues behind DeAndre Yedlin.
Polster has been the best under-25 American right back in MLS this year, and that's not just a "by default" award. The Fire are 5-0-1 with a +8 goal differential since he entered the lineup, and while there are correlation/causality issues to unpack there, it's not entirely coincidental that they've been so good lately.
Expect one of these two guys to get dropped for Graham Zusi after the group stage.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD:Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
McCarty's teams win. This is his chance to translate what he does for his club teams to the international level (volume up for analysis):
I have Roldan listed here as a back-up defensive midfielder because that probably is his long-term spot, even though he plays in more of a box-to-box role for Seattle. Wil Trapp could be the choice instead, but Trapp's been shaky all season for Crew SC.
This is the competition to be Michael Bradley's back-up, and I expect the USMNT captain to join the team after the group stage.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD:Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana)
Acosta's place in the overall roster is secure, but this July is a chance to cement himself as the surefire starter at box-to-box midfield henceforth. He acquitted himself well at altitude in Mexico City, and that speaks to his considerable potential.
Rowe is the more attacking choice here. He's been starting as a No. 10 for New England lately, and yes, I'd love to see a three-man central midfield of McCarty holding with Acosta box-to-box and Rowe as the playmaker. It would work very well on both sides of the ball.
Corona is a jackknife of a midfielder who can replicate a lot of the savviness and versatility that Alejandro Bedoya has brought to the US over the past six years, and is someone Arena has had his eye on for a while. Most of the Liga MX based players will be given a pass here because their season starts just before the Gold Cup semifinals commence. For guys like Gonzalez and Villafaña, who have established places on the US roster, that's not a big deal.
But Corona has a real chance to win a job here, and is going to get a look.
Bedoya could come in after the group stage, though I'd be surprised. And I'd be downright shocked if we saw Christian Pulisic, who has a new coach to impress in Dortmund.
WING:Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kenny Saief (KAA Gent)
As with Acosta, this is Nagbe's chance to prove that he should be not just a regular, but a core piece of the team. Literally no one in the world doubts that he has the talent to do so, but there are still understandable questions as to whether or not he has the mentality for it.
Arriola has a chance, like Corona, to win himself a job here, and Saief just changed allegiances for a reason. If his paperwork goes through, Bruce will take a look.
Gyasi Zardes's play has not justified inclusion this year, nor has Chris Pontius', and – at the risk of inviting social media wrath – neither has Tommy McNamara's. Of course any/all of the above could end up making the roster, but if I were to wager on one it'd be Zardes. Arena has a habit of sticking with the familiar, with guys he trusts, and that's what Zardes was in their mutual LA days.
Also, bear in mind that Rowe and Corona can play on the wing in a variety of set-ups.
FORWARD:Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC), C.J. Sapong (Philadelphia Union)
Since last September, Agudelo is the most productive forward in the pool on a per-minute basis. When he plays as a lone center forward he averages better than a goal per 90, and the only fulltime No. 9 in MLS with a better expected assists per 90 is David Villa. It's bonkers to me that he doesn't start as a center forward every single game for the Revs.
As for Morris... he's not in a position where he needs to have a great tournament in order to salvage his USMNT job, but it couldn't hurt. He's probably safe in the pool since his combination of speed and commitment aren't replicated elsewhere (volume up for analysis):
Dwyer vs. Sapong is, in my eyes, the competition to be the "Brian Ching/Conor Casey/Alan Gordon CONCACAF Battering Ram. Arena has repeatedly namechecked Dwyer, which may be a hint, but it should be impossible to miss how good Sapong's been this year in Philly.
Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are waiting in the wings for the post-group stage gallop to the final. This might end up being an important summer for Dempsey, who's gone ice cold and didn't like being subbed off against Trinidad & Tobago. It would be very Deuce if he kept not scoring right up until the point the US needed a big goal vs. the likes of Costa Rica or Mexico in a big game, wouldn't it?