ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: One of the craziest days in MLS is broken down by the crew as Sigi Schmid takes over at the Galaxy and Bob Bradley is hired as LAFC's first head coach. Schmid comes on to discuss his new role and what Galaxy fans should expect going forward. In the second segment, the guys break down USA's Gold Cup triumph while fans make their voices heard in the mailbag. Subscribe now so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
The US men's national team accomplished the short-term mission on Wednesday night, when they beat Jamaica 2-1 to win their sixth Gold Cup. Jamaica are well-coached, and the US played some fun, attacking soccer -- and as Bruce Arena said, you play to win the game.
Arena was also very up front about the truth that the ultimate goal is World Cup qualifying. In fact, he said those very words in that exact order: "The ultimate goal is World Cup qualifying." And from the moment the 40-man roster was announced back in the spring, it was clear that this was a tournament Arena was using to try to identify guys who could help in that endeavor, and guys who maybe sort of couldn't.
With that in mind, here's my "Stock Up, Stock Down" report following the tournament.
Michael Bradley: Already the captain and leader during World Cup qualifying, Bradley came in midway through the tournament and just locked things down for the US. He won the tournament's Golden Ball, barely put a foot wrong, and hoisted the trophy. In 14 hours of play under Arena with Bradley on the field at d-mid, the US have conceded one open play goal.
Are there any questions that this is where he should have been playing all along?
Jozy Altidore: He broke his scoreless streak in emphatic, game-winning fashion in the semis and stayed healthy through an entire tournament (thank God). Both his hold-up play and defensive work are better than ever.
Clint Dempsey: The US have never had a match-winning super-sub like him before. The most important takeaway from this tournament is Dempsey's embrace of that role.
Darlington Nagbe: I can pick at some flaws in his defensive positioning and attacking indecisiveness, but he brings so much more to the table than he takes off of it.
Jorge Villafaña: Arena made a point of saying that Sueño hasn't locked down the starting job permanently – and it's true that he will have to go back to Santos Laguna and get regular playing time to keep it – but left back isn't much of a question anymore, is it?
When he got forward for the US, good stuff happened. He still has his weaknesses (lack of speed and strength, mostly), but so does every other player. The fact is that Villafaña has made the job his.
Matt Besler: The last two games in particular were examples of the calm, cool, collected Besler the US haven't seen enough of since 2014. He was quietly dominant vs. Costa Rica and was a gamer vs. Jamaica. I thought Tim Ream had the edge at this spot entering the month, but now it's probably a dead heat.
Graham Zusi: Folks are gonna be fired up about this, but Arena has repeatedly turned to Zusi this year, and Zusi has repeatedly gotten the job done. He seems a solid No. 2 on the depth chart at right back.
Paul Arriola: I'm still kind of shocked at how divisive a figure he's become. Arriola is a gamer, folks – he went out there from minute one and played with intensity and purpose, as well as a little bit of flair and a ton of endeavor. His movement is good and dangerous, and while neither his first nor final touch are always reliable, he was nonetheless a net positive on both sides of the ball.
You're going to see him about 70 more times in Red, White, and Blue over the next decade.
Kelyn Rowe: There's still no clarity as to why he was released from camp after the group stage, given how effective he'd been as a chance creator and finisher. I'm going to hope that Arena simply wanted to do the Revs a solid here.
Regardless, it's clear Rowe could (and should) play at the international level.
Dom Dwyer: Like Rowe, he was released after a productive group stage. Dwyer's never going to compete for the starting job with the US, but his utility against CONCACAF sides was evident, wasn't it?
Jordan Morris: If you score a tournament-winning goal, your stock goes up (except for Brek Shea in 2013, I guess) even if you don't do all that much else. Still, let's recall this pass against Costa Rica:
That is the best pass I've ever seen Jordan Morris hit. If he puts that club in his bag for real, and if he can figure out how to be dangerous as a left winger/midfielder (as he was in the final 30 minutes against Jamaica), he will go a long way toward sealing a ticket to Russia.
Bill Hamid: He threw a shutout in his first USMNT appearance since 2014. He may have become the No. 3.
Jesse Gonzalez: The kid didn't play, but he didn't have to. He's cap-tied, has a champion's medal, and is officially part of the pool.
Dax McCarty: Dax didn't run the midfield flawlessly in the group stage while deputizing for Bradley, but he was good enough. And then in the knockout rounds he was used as a late, match-killing sub to good effect.
That's clearly going to be his role for the next 12 months.
Omar Gonzalez: He entered the tournament No. 3 on the center back depth chart. He left the tournament at No. 3 on the center back depth chart, and with another medal.
Tim Howard: Undisputed No. 1.
Brad Guzan: Undisputed No. 2.
Sean Johnson: He didn't play at all, but he's having a career resurgence with NYCFC and is clearly on Arena's radar.
Gyasi Zardes: I bagged on Zardes a lot – to me, he is a maddening player whose runs are reactive and whose touch is an adventure. But no one can question his commitment or productivity:
Zardes, as a winger, does not play the game the way I like to see it played. But results are results, and he deserves respect for that. He will keep getting camps and caps.
Justin Morrow: He played 180 minutes and didn't really connect well with Zardes, but was generally unafraid to try to push forward and – save for one gaffe on a long-ball – proved solid defensively. I'm comfortable with him in the mix at left back, but probably didn't do enough to solidify himself as the outright No. 2 on the depth chart there.
Chris Pontius: I forgot him on the first edit, which should give you an idea of how anonymous his appearances were. It was hard to imagine him getting meaningful qualifying minutes before the tournament, and it's hard after the tournament as well.
Matt Miazga: I can't be the only one who's disappointed we only got to see 90 minutes of him, right? Let's hope Miazga finds the right club on loan and has a huge year.
Alejandro Bedoya: Still under-appreciated by far too many, Bedoya was able to bring a semblance of sanity to the game when he was moved to central midfield. He should be used there, primarily, because as a wide player he just does not offer enough going forward.
Juan Agudelo: Did good work with his hold-up play, passing and off-the-ball movement during his brief looks, but was the only forward involved with this camp who didn't score a goal.
Agudelo needs to get back to the Revs and start sonning folks.
Kellyn Acosta: This month was his chance to stake a full claim on the starting spot next to Bradley in central midfield. Instead he struggled to impact the game in meaningful ways, and come the knockout rounds, was either subbed on late or subbed out early.
Acosta is going to be fine in the long run, but he had a poor month. It's easy to imagine that, with Fabian Johnson and Christian Pulisic back in the mix and Nagbe sliding inside to central midfield, there's no starting role for him against Costa Rica in the next home qualifier.
Matt Hedges: Looked overawed in his 180 minutes.
Eric Lichaj: This was just a lovely goal:
But Lichaj wasn't brought into camp to be Pippo Inzaghi straddling the offside line. He was brought into camp to be a reliable, mistake-free, experienced fullback who could keep the game tight, just like he does for his club team in England.
He was not that – Lichaj was surprisingly error-prone. I thought he'd come out of this camp the clear No. 2 at right back, behind DeAndre Yedlin. Instead he seems to be clearly behind Zusi for that spot.
Cristian Roldan: He played in central midfield for the worst US performance of the tournament, and didn't complete a pass longer than 15 yards. As good as he's been for the Sounders, he still doesn't put his imprint on the game in terms of establishing rhythm or tempo, and the US can't afford to lack that in such a crucial spot.
Roldan will get looks going forward (Arena likes him quite a bit), but there's a big "Not Ready Yet" sign hanging off of his neck.
Joe Corona: He got a look as a playmaker and didn't do much playmaking. I suspect he'd be better off in a deeper role as a No. 8, but that position is crowded with veterans who are either better than him right now (Bedoya and Nagbe) or up-and-comers with more potential (Acosta and Roldan).
Ok folks, that's what I've got for this one. I'll be scanning the comments below for your takes – please try to keep it just a little bit civil.