USMNT players to watch in the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup

I’m still buzzing almost a week later. Top bins victory, that. I’ve always said the Nations League is the true measuring stick in Concacaf. This young, brash, supremely talented US men’s national team and Gregg “What kicks is he wearing today?” Berhalter measured up.

The trophy made it back to Chicago to reside in Soccer House’s trophy case. The statute of limitations on gloating lasts until World Cup qualifying, I’d say, but it’d be nice to rub it in all summer during the Gold Cup and add another piece of silverware to the collection on August 1 in Las Vegas.

We know that team isn’t going to look much like the one that handled business in Denver. It’s not the “first team,” but there are plenty of players who could make a case to push into that group come September’s opportunity at World Cup redemption.

Here are some I’ll be watching closely in July…

Gold Cup Roster Predictions | Extratime

The underlying numbers – I’m referencing American Soccer Analysis’ expected goals data here – adore Turner and have from the moment Brad Friedel made him the starter in 2018. His -22.50 goals allowed minus expected goals allowed (G – xG) is by far the best in MLS during that time period.

And “by far,” I mean nobody is remotely close. Only Stefan Frei (-14.39), Steve Clark (-5.35), Sean Johnson (-3.33), Eloy Room (-3.55), Clement Diop (-3.01), Bill Hamid (-2.98), Ryan Meara (-2.21) and Jeff Attinella (-1.84) are in the much-desired negative numbers over that time period.

In case you’re scratching your head right now, that means Turner has allowed almost 23 goals fewer than the model would expect to be scored against him. It’s a truly absurd number and combined with the eye test, the reason why his name is brought up both in European transfer discussions as well as in regard to the national team’s present and future at the goalkeeper position.

So let’s see it! I hope/expect he’ll be the starter this summer.

Zack Steffen clearly has the inside track on the No. 1 job, but injuries and changes in form and club situation will inevitably happen. Just look at the Nations League final. There’s a non-zero chance Turner gets minutes in important games post Gold Cup, and his preparation and performances this summer will be key.

I don’t think left back is necessarily an issue with the national team – not when you have Sergino Dest able to play there, Antonee Robinson playing at a high level and Tim Ream around to fill in/stay at home if needed – but there is definitely an opportunity to break in there and shake things up.

Vines seems to be best positioned to take advantage of that opportunity. He was one of the US U-23s best players in a failed Olympic qualifying bid and already has three senior starts for Berhalter. He’s a 22-year-old who will hit 100 MLS starts this year, and the reason for that is he’s physically capable of keeping up with the game at the highest level and serves a wonderful ball, both early crosses and pushing to the endline.

The Gold Cup is his opportunity to earn a spot on the World Cup qualifying roster. From there, anything can happen.

NOTE: With George Bello and Daniel Lovitz also in the mix, left back ought to be an area of strength this summer for the USMNT.

This doesn’t need much explanation, does it?

Aaron Long’s injury – I remain super bummed for Long and the national team because he was going to be an integral player this cycle – means every game, for club and country, is an opportunity to gain or lose ground in the race to partner John Brooks (or step in should the big man need a rest) in World Cup qualifying.

There are a lot of names in the mix: Tim Ream, Mark McKenzie, Chris Richards, Matt Miazga and, of course, the likely pairing this summer in Zimmerman and Robinson. All have different experiences and strengths. All are in the mix.

A dominant defensive summer could help either Zimmerman or Robinson rise up the depth chart.

Add Flach to the list of Ernst Tanner signings that went from “Huh, who is that?” to “Huh, he’s really good” as soon as they hit the field in Philly.

I want to see him get some real run at defensive midfield this summer, a position that remains relatively unsettled after Tyler Adams. I like Flach because he’s still just 20 years old and he’s incredibly effective putting pressure on the ball and the opposition.

He’s 9th in MLS in total pressures according to Second Spectrum, and more importantly his pressures usually lead to a loss of possession for the opponent (51.88 percent possession lost within five seconds of his pressure and 69.69 percent within 10 seconds, numbers nobody around the ball as much as he is can match). He’s top 10 in tackles attempted and wins possession from those tackles at a 31.82 percent rate, a rate that puts him among the elite defensive midfielders (Alex Ring, Joao Paulo) in MLS.

He’s a different sort of midfielder than Kellyn Acosta and Jackson Yueill, and that’s valuable both now and in the future.

I dream of a world in which Williamson and Weston McKennie are rampaging in front of Tyler Adams. What a world that would be!

This summer, how about a three-man midfield of Flach (or Acosta/Yueill should they get called in) and Williamson and Cristian Roldan or Cole Bassett? Yeesh, that’s fun.

NOTE: How about this for a list of potential No. 8s on the outside of the first team looking in? Cristian Roldan, Cole Bassett, Caden Clark, Frankie Amaya, Hassani Dotson … the future is bright.

Frankly, I don’t care what is or isn’t going on with Toronto FC. That’s between Jozy and the club. I know that if he is healthy, he can be a difference maker. He appears to be healthy.

Though I have an ongoing/growing obsession with Daryl Dike, who has a big summer of his own coming up whether he’s on the Gold Cup roster or not, you’d be crazy to pass up the possibility of an in-form Altidore going HAM on Concacaf opposition … and perhaps beyond that depending on his circumstances.

It’d be a bit outside the box for Berhalter, but we know he appreciates Altidore and we know Altidore has become a bit of a cheerleader/mentor for some of the younger players in the pool, including Dike. I’d love to see him on the Gold Cup roster, whether his personal situation is resolved or not.