US Soccer is set to release the preliminary, 60-man roster for this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup at the end of the week.
The final 23-man roster for this summer’s tournament, which Mexico won back in 2019 and the US last won in 2017, will most likely come in the next two weeks. The tournament itself kicks off on July 10.
US men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter has intimated that he won’t be calling up players from the Concacaf Nations League camp for this tournament, and there are multiple good and varied reasons for that:
1) It wouldn’t be fair to ask club teams to release players for extended periods twice in the same summer. Maintaining a good relationship with clubs is important, and Berhalter, as well as Brian McBride and Earnie Stewart, have a pretty clear grasp on that.
2) The Gold Cup overlaps with preseason for most of Europe, and preseason is the time to win a job with your club. This doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone -- a few guys in the pool are centerpieces for their respective teams and don’t necessarily need to be there for all of preseason -- but it applies to most. And while getting a few weeks this summer with the national team is valuable, it’s not as valuable as getting weekly playing time with one’s club team week-in, week-out when the season starts.
Rust can be deadly.
3) Fatigue can also be deadly. I really hope that Tyler Adams, John Brooks, Weston McKennie et al are chilling by a pool somewhere and stay doing that until about this time next month. They need to be “off” this offseason, and Berhalter knows it.
“One thing I can guarantee you is a guy like Christian Pulisic is not going to be playing Nations League and Gold Cup – it's not going to happen,” Berhalter previously said on Extratime. “These guys need a break, so I can imagine them playing one of those tournaments and then getting rest. That's going to be true for a lot of our guys who are going through similar situations right now.”
4) We all pretty much know the top 15 or so players in the pool. There’s a decent bet that if you’re reading this column, you can name them. I’m sure Berhalter can.
Obviously, there would be value in getting them more reps together against Concacaf teams. But there’s more value in going past that core group and diving further into the depth chart in order to figure out who fits as a backup, who fits as a complementary piece and who might even be pushing into that 15.
Getting them a run-out in this tournament against the exact teams they’ll have to plow through in order to qualify for the World Cup has obvious merit.
All of the above means we won’t be seeing most/many/any of the stars of this current national team for the Gold Cup. No Pulisic, no Adams, Brooks or McKennie, no Gio Reyna or Sergino Dest. We got to see those guys two weeks ago against Mexico and Honduras, and we’ll see them again on September 2 in El Salvador for World Cup qualifiers.
So rule the vast majority of those guys out for the upcoming roster, and for the purposes of this piece. Given that, let’s figure out who and what we could see at the Gold Cup:
- Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
- Sean Johnson (NYCFC)
- JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
This one’s pretty easy. Johnson, a regular under Berhalter, is having another good year, while Marcinkowski gets the same spot David Ochoa had for the Nations League camp -- the “young guy with potential who’s just here for the ride in order to get a taste of what the national team culture is.”
But it’s obviously time for Turner to wear the No. 1 kit. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t start every game at the Gold Cup (save for maybe the final Group B game if the US are already through), and this is very much his chance to make a case to be the No. 1 in qualifying. The door has to be open given how shaky Zack Steffen has looked, as well as Ethan Horvath’s club situation.
More than that, though, the door has to be open based simply on ability. Turner is the best and most consistent shot-stopper I’ve ever seen in MLS, and the underlying numbers do more than just back that up. If anything, they suggest I’m underselling how good he’s been.
Other Considerations: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United) has thus far bounced back from a rough 2020, and Bill Hamid (D.C. United), who we saw in January, is working his way back to fitness. I also think you could make a case to bring Chituru Odunze (Leicester City) as the third-string guy instead of taking Marcinkowski away from the Earthquakes for a month.
Brad Stuver (Austin FC) has been amazing in his first year as an MLS starter, but the sample size is too small for him to be seriously considered for this tournament, I think.
- Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)
- George Bello (Atlanta United)
It’s time to see if he can do it in games with stakes.
Bello, who is three years younger, hasn’t been as good as Vines for club or country but he has, nonetheless, been very good! And given his ability to eliminate defenders off the dribble he probably has a higher ceiling, even if he’s pretty far away from it at the moment.
It’s worth noting that both of these guys are true, modern left backs who are at their best when overlapping in a back four, or playing as a left wingback in a back three (or five). Neither has the profile to fill the role Tim Ream plays for Berhalter, i.e. a stay-at-home LB in a back four or LCB in a back five, though I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if Vines showed the ability to do so.
Other Considerations: None. Anyone know how long until Nouhou gets citizenship, though?
- Miles Robsinon (Atlanta United)
- Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
- Justen Glad (RSL)
- Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids)
Robinson and Zimmerman are easy choices. While neither have been quite as good as in their respective Best XI seasons (2019 for Robinson; 2020 for Zimmerman), both are clearly among the elite in MLS and in the pool, and -- more importantly -- both represent something close to ideal partners for Brooks. With Aaron Long injured and not likely to be back until this time next year, that job next to Brooks is very much available.
As with Turner, this is a case of these guys having a legitimate shot to push into the actual XI, not just into the 23.
Zimmerman probably deserves to be No. 1 on this particular list given his quality, experience and time with the national team, but it’s hard to overstate how much Robinson (the best 1v1 and open-field defender in the center back pool, bar none) has improved as a distributor. As per Second Spectrum’s tracking data: among CBs he’s fourth in average end distance to goal on forward passes, first in passes leading to a shot per game (small sample size alert, of course), completes 82 percent of his passes on above-average difficulty, and is seventh in total forward/diagonal passes completed per game.
Here’s what that looks like on the field:
He’s out there collecting points for Atlanta United.
Another note to consider about Robinson: even though he’s got little international experience, he’s been through a bunch of Concacaf wars already with his club. That includes two trips to the CCL and one Campeones’ Cup win over Club America. It’s not a World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula, but it ain’t nothing.
It was difficult to pick the third and fourth names on this list, so I went with age and form. Glad has been excellent for RSL and has the athletic profile to partner Brooks in an emergency, though I’d still like to see him become more dangerous on restarts. Trusty, meanwhile, has been one of the most pleasant surprises of this young season, bouncing back from a rough past 18 months to nail down a starting job for the Rapids.
He is also 6-foot-3 and left-footed. You can’t teach that.
Other Considerations: Could Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; expiring contract) or Erik Palmer-Brown (Manchester City) be in this camp? Quite possibly, though all three are likely in search of new homes this summer, and fighting for a job with a new team would most likely take precedence over this Gold Cup. If any of them were closer to the XI that might not be the case, but of the trio, only Miazga really seems to be in the mix, and he’s not actually that close.
Chris Richards, of course, is. If he ends up going back on loan to Hoffenheim then I would actually expect to see him at the Gold Cup, and would pretty obviously be atop this particular list. But if he goes back to Bayern Munich to fight for a role under Julian Nagelsman… I mean, he’s not going to win that fight unless he’s there, in Bavaria, actually doing so.
- Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy)
- Aaron Herrera (RSL)
Pretty easy. Araujo is finally playing for a coach who’s A) using him as a RB and 2) letting him play through mistakes. Herrera is a bulldog who’s able to play at either FB slot, as well as right wingback. Both these guys have previous USMNT and USYNT experience as well.
I think you could quibble with the order a bit -- if I had to win a game right now and these were my choices, I’d go with Herrera for the 90. But on a longer timeline, Araujo’s got the upside and is more likely to push into a regular role with the full USMNT someday.
But “someday” is not likely to come during this cycle, as RB is almost certainly the deepest spot in the pool. These guys will have to light it up this summer to make any sort of case that they should figure into Berhalter’s qualifying plans.
- Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers)
- James Sands (NYCFC)
He has to be in this camp. The only reason he wouldn’t be in this camp is because he was so great in Concacaf Olympic qualifying with the U-23s and so he’ll be in Japa-- \\signal lost\\
Anyway, one of the biggest questions about the US roster right now is who’s going to be Adams’ back-up at the six. Kellyn Acosta put in a good showing against Mexico, but he’s much more of a double-pivot guy rather than a high-usage back point, which is the role Williamson has been playing lately for the Timbers.
Sands has played that role a ton over the course of his still-young career with NYCFC. To borrow a line from a friend: The main thing with Sands is that you aren't getting past him. Sands is winning the ball or taking you out of the play. That's a great thing to have on your roster, and in my opinion, having a No. 6 who excels at that is the type of thing that allows your attackers to go nuts living their best lives.
He will bring nothing close to what Williamson does in terms of ball progression (his passing has improved a ton, but he’s still scared to dribble). That’s ok, though -- not everyone can do everything.
Both of these guys can fit at other spots, too. Williamson has mostly been a No. 8 through his professional career to this point, while Sands has played a ton of center back.
Other Considerations: I think Berhalter could justify dropping either Glad or Trusty and moving Sands to fourth on the depth chart if he really wanted to get Leon Flach (Philadelphia Union) into this camp. I certainly wouldn’t complain.
There is also a strong argument for Acosta or Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes) to be here. Acosta hasn’t gotten a ton of reps at d-mid, and if he really is Adams’ back-up, this summer would be a good time to show it. Yueill, meanwhile, had mostly played pretty well -- and occasionally very well -- for the US, right up until that miserable showing vs. Honduras. The Gold Cup could be a chance to show that was just a blip. Same with Johnny Cardoso (Internacional) and those ill-fated Concacaf Olympic qualifiers.
I have to admit, though, that I will be very disappointed if we don’t get to see a lot of Williamson and Sands this summer.
- Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas)
- Luca de la Torre (Heracles Almelo)
- Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
- Julian Green (Greuther Furth)
- Gianluca Busio (Sporting KC)
The one thing that’s gone right for FC Dallas this year is Pomykal’s return from injury. He hasn’t started or played more than 45 minutes yet, but I do not care. He’s one of the guys who has the ability to push into a starting role because of his ability to win the ball, progress the ball and unlock defenses, both when operating from deep and when pushing into the attacking third:
De la Torre came out of the blue over the past five months after a switch from the wing to central midfield, where he became a ball-winning, ball-progressing centerpiece of a solidly mid-table Eredivisie side. He also put in a couple of assured showings with the national team back in March. Just friendlies, and only about 35 minutes total, but his comfort in tough spots was eye-opening.
Roldan struggled mightily with the national team back in 2019, but he has surely played his way back into the picture, a la Acosta, via his club form. I have him second on my Landon Donovan MVP ballot at this point, behind only Chicharito (another guy I’m sure we’ll see this summer). And Roldan, like both Pomykal and de la Torre, also provides cover on the wing.
Green, like Roldan, has likely played his way into the picture via his club form, as he was a central part of Furth’s promotion push and actually scored the key goal that brought them up to the Bundesliga for the 2021-22 season. “Goals” aren’t why he’s here, though; Green has been tidy on the ball and occasionally a line-breaking passer.
As with de la Torre, I’m not worried about Green losing his spot with his club team due to a preseason absence. Both guys are central to their respective sides’ plans, and neither Heracles Almelo nor Greuther Furth are the types to go out on the market and spend big to replace guys who are among their best players.
I have Busio on the depth chart here as opposed to the No. 6, which is where he’s played for Sporting the past couple of weeks, because he still makes too many “he’s a young guy who’s clearly just learning this position” mistakes that cost his team goals. But he’s also shown plenty well enough to be in the picture, and his versatility -- No. 8, No. 6, even a bit on the wing -- could be useful in future tournaments.
It’s a shame there’s no U-20 World Cup this year (though I obviously understand the reasons behind its cancellation). It would’ve been wonderful to see Busio, Flach, Bello and a few others on this list getting a run out at that level.
Other Considerations: Tanner Tessmann (FC Dallas) and Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids) are two other guys who would certainly have been part of that U-20 team, and just miss out here. I think Tessmann is actually closer to being brought in, and I could see him plugged into that No. 6 role.
That said, it’s Bassett who’s been better this year, playing some wonderful two-way soccer as an attacking midfielder for the Rapids. I’m not sure, though, how well he fits as a facilitator.
- Paul Arriola (D.C. United)
- Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes)
- Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls)
It’s Arriola -- who we’re definitely going to see in World Cup qualifying at some point, and who is definitely going to be useful -- and then YOLO.
I don’t believe that either Cowell or Clark are going to actually break into the USMNT roster for this cycle, but the same is true of the more proven options (I’ll list them below) I’m taking them over. And the difference is that Cowell and Clark both have the potential to play significant roles in the 2026 and 2030 (!!!) cycles, so why not get them in there now? While this is kind of a “let’s toss ‘em to the wolves” situation, it’s coming within the structure of a team that’s actually fairly experienced. Arriola, Gyasi Zardes, Roldan, Green? These guys are veterans. Even the likes of Pomykal, Williamson, de la Torre and others have been through the U-20 World Cup wars, which are not insignificant.
I’m not really expecting this from Berhalter, but I’d like to see it.
Other Considerations: Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids) and Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montréal) were featured attackers for that Olympic qualifying team that came up short, and I don’t think either have the juice to push into the mix for real at this point. Chris Mueller (Orlando City SC), meanwhile, is regressing hard after a wonderful 2020 season.
It’s hard to imagine Uly Llanez (Wolfsburg reserves) is in the picture. That young man’s down catastrophic and badly needs a career resurrection, but it’s got to come at the club level.
Four of the five No. 8s I called in can play on the wing/have played a ton on the wing, which means I’m comfortable bringing only three actual wingers.
- Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC)
- Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
Neither guy has set the world alight this year, but there are injury-related mitigating circumstances to consider -- both their own injuries (or illness-related lack of fitness) that they’ve had to play through, as well as injuries and inconsistency in each team’s lineup and overall approach. There’s also been some of Akinola on the wing, which… woof.
Anyway, these guys are here because 1) we know what Gyasi can do in Berhalter’s system, and 2) we know that Ayo does a ton of what Gyasi does on the club level. Pulling the Second Spectrum data on these guys was eye-opening:
A lot of how the US want to play under Berhalter involves using the ball to pull opposing defenses around and trusting the center forwards to make the right runs. Zardes is masterful at it; Ayo is almost masterful at it, and is almost a decade younger.
You can also see, from the numbers, the part of the game where Ayo needs to catch up. “Pass and Move” means exactly what it says on the tin: a player gets on the ball, completes a pass, then moves (completes a run) to get open for either another pass or to create space. This movement from a center forward is essential, and I like the idea of Ayo (and Cowell!) spending a month with Gyasi in camp to learn from him.
Other Considerations: If Daryl Dike (Orlando City) isn’t sold, I have to imagine he’ll be at this tournament. I don’t know if this would come at Ayo’s expense -- that might push him into Canada’s arms, though their center forward depth chart is actually more crowded than ours at the moment -- or if it would mean dropping Gyasi (seems unlikely), or if it would mean carrying one fewer midfielder or fullback.
I could be talked into Matthew Hoppe (Schalke 04) for sure, though I think I’d like to see him get a full preseason as Schalke’s first choice instead. The other MLS-based forwards who have to be considered are Mason Toye (CF Montréal) and Rubio Rubin (RSL). Both guys have finally started finding and finishing the types of repeatable, high-level chances that consistent goalscorers thrive upon.
As long as they keep putting the ball into the net, the door will open at some point*.
(*) There was a lot of chatter about Rubin filing a one-time switch to represent Guatemala, but Los Chapines failed to advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying, which probably means Rubin’s not going to consider switching until the 2026 cycle.
Ok, phew. A lot of this will be wrong, obviously, but I do think I’ve got a good handle on what Berhalter has been thinking with regard to both how he wants his team to play and how he builds a roster.
And I’m weirdly looking forward to seeing this group more than I would be if he was calling in the first-team because plugging in spots on the depth chart and mastering squad rotation are going to be key for this World Cup qualifying campaign. There’s a lot of potential in the pool -- more than we’ve ever had in the past -- and we’re about to get a month of seeing how many of those guys can turn that potential into productivity when it starts to matter.