Armchair Analyst: Jozy or bust? Picking apart the USMNT's 2015 Gold Cup roster

Jurgen Klinsmann announced the USMNT Gold Cup roster on Tuesday, and soccer Twitter's reaction was tepid:

Let me sum up where it's "meh":


1. Jozy Or Bust

Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson serve roughly the same function as forwards, and are more notable for how they work off the ball as opposed to what they can do with it. Neither is a target forward capable of riding challenges and continuing on to make a play, and neither really does the donkey work often necessary against compact, "defend first" teams, which CONCACAF is loaded with.

Wondolowski's goal-scoring from the 2013 Gold Cup is memorable, of course. But against the more physical teams in the region – Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica – it was Eddie Johnson leading the line and occupying defenders.

This time, though, that job will fall to Jozy Altidore, who's proved repeatedly he can do that against all comers in this federation. But what if he gets hurt?

And why am I having to ask the same question ahead of this tournament that I did ahead of the last tournament the US played in? Why do I have to remember that without Alan Gordon, the US might not even have made the last Hexagonal?

Mind you, the US should be able to get through the group stage either way, but this year's trio of opponents (Honduras, Panama, Haiti) are much more physical than 2013's (Costa Rica, Cuba, Belize). If Jozy goes down 20 minutes into Game 1, it will be a slog just to get into the knockout rounds.

Let's hope it's not just Clint Dempsey all alone up top this summer, as it was last summer.


2. Diamonds Are For Now

I'm on the record as a big fan of the diamond. I'm also on the record as saying the way the USMNT have played that formation recently is much more of a 4-1-3-2 or "Y Midfield" than it is an true diamond. The difference between the two is that in the Y Midfield the shuttlers (wide midfielders) tend to get higher up the pitch into the attack than they would in the diamond, while in the diamond midfield it's the No. 10 – the point of the diamond – who tends to push furthest and earliest into the final third.

I like the US better in the Y because I think our best and most important player, Michael Bradley, is at his best best when he's deeper and able to pick out more options ahead of him. Kinda like this:

This isn't to say Bradley can't be creative in the final third (remember how he tore apart the Netherlands?). But he's been significantly more effective when picking out guys from deep, and he remains only a sporadic goal threat himself.

All of that is by way of saying that a lot of pressure is now going to be on Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya to stretch the field and be goal dangerous, which is not the first instinct for either. Bedoya's gift is his brain; he's always open, always able to find space and know the next high-percentage pass to play. Diskerud is mostly the same, and is one of those players who is at his best when he doesn't have to be his team's best. 

Alfredo Morales is built in that same mold, and while Brad Davis and Graham Zusi are gifted attacking players, neither has the kind of speed and off the ball instincts to burst through the lines in the way Green did in that goal above. DeAndre Yedlin and Gyasi Zardes are the wild cards, and their inclusion as "midfielders" may mean Klinsmann is actually looking toward playing more of a 4-3-3.

One more note: Kyle Beckerman is the only No. 6 on the roster. I have the same issues regarding the lack of a clear backup at that spot as I do with the lack of a backup target forward.


3. Defend from the Back

While I haven't loved all of Klinsmann's positional machinations, one that's been a rousing success thus far has been switching Brad Evans to central defense. And it's for the very obvious reason that he has the skill and maturity on the ball of a guy who's spent two decades in midfield.

This, from last weekend, didn't end in a goal. But it shows how hard the Sounders are to press into a mistake when Evans is back there spreading teams out:

Evans, John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez can all play some very, very nice passes (don't sleep on Omar's distribution, by the way – it's been phenomenal this year), and while Ventura Alvarado hasn't been entirely convincing, he's 100 percent worth including here. So is Matt Besler, but I'm assuming his omission is Klinsmann doing Sporting KC's threadbare defense a solid.

Out wide, we know the attacking qualities that Fabian Johnson brings at either fullback spot. Timmy Chandler and Tim Ream are bigger question marks – Chandler has at least one "did he just drop his controller?" defensive play in him per game, and Ream has had Gold Cup ooopsies before. I'm honestly disappointed not to see Brek Shea out there, but again: This could very well be Klinsmann doing another threadbare MLS team a solid.


One last thought:

At first glance I felt like this roster was old. But it's not, and actually falls neatly in line with the average age of the last three Gold Cup champions:

  • 2009 Mexico – 26.00 (2 players in 30s)
  • 2011 Mexico – 26.16 (5 players in 30s)
  • 2013 USA – 26.95 (6 players in 30s)
  • 2015 USA – 26.7 (5 players in 30s)

The one disappointment is that Brooks and Yedlin are the only Olympics-eligible players in the US roster – I wouldn't have hated a Rubio Rubin or even Fatai Alashe as surprise inclusions.

Those two and the rest of the kids are still an obvious part of Klinsmann's long-term plan, but come July, it'll be the veterans doing the heavy lifting.

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