Armchair Analyst: What Klinsmann got right and wrong with the USMNT squad

After three weeks of not-so-intense debate, we have the names of the final 23 members of the US squad and the 17 staying home. Plenty of names to get to, but first my two main takeaways:

  • I've seen worse, but it could have been better.
  • Either way, this is the deepest and most talented roster the US have ever brought to a major international competition.

I am mostly okay with the US men's national team roster for next month's Copa America. It's not exactly the squad I would have picked, but Jurgen Klinsmann got most of the choices correct; there's adequate depth at crucial spots; there's a fair sprinkling of youth; and most (not all) of the squad is listed at their natural positions.

And before we make any assumptions regarding Klinsmann's motivations, please remember that Klinsmann has repeatedly stressed that he brings what he considers to be his best squad into each of these tournaments, and into World Cup qualifiers. This is the group that the coach feels gives him the best chance to win. 

So... let's debate.

Things I like:

  • Christian Pulisic and Ethan Horvath both made the cut. Pulisic is the most exciting young, US attacker since Landon Donovan and Horvath is, at 20, already putting together an impressive resume. He'll be well-served in holding down the No. 3 spot next month and Klinsmann -- to his credit – isn't depriving RSL (Nick Rimando) or San Jose (David Bingham) of their respective starting 'keepers.
  • DeAndre Yedlin, who's played this season as a defender, and has been a defender for the vast majority of his professional career, is listed as a defender.
  • Perry Kitchen, who's been playing as a true No. 6 since moving to Hearts rather than the box-to-box role he had with D.C. United, is on board. Perhaps this is the summer he asserts himself as Kyle Beckerman's heir.
  • There is adequate depth at center forward.
  • Darlington Nagbe!
  • Klinsmann didn't shockingly omit his best and most proven attacker.

Things I don't like:

  • Fabian Johnson is listed in defense rather than midfield/wing. Johnson has only two appearances this year for Borussia Moenchengladbach at fullback, and was in contention for the Bundesliga "Team of the Year" for his work on the wing. More to the point: He's not a good defender! Sorry for the crappy quality of this video, but here:
    That is the definition of a fullback losing track of the play in a crucial moment, and Johnson repeated the feat a few days later against Portugal. There's a reason his club team doesn't play him at fullback, but given the roster make-up we're probably going to see him as the starting left back over the next month.
  • Timmy Chandler made it over Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest) and Edgar Castillo (Monterrey). Castillo's had his bad moments for the US, but he's also had some good ones as well (including the must-win against Guatemala two months back). Plus he's a starter for the best team in Liga MX and is a natural left back. Lichaj, meanwhile, played over 4000 injury-free minutes this year at both fullback slots, and has always performed reliably for the US.
  • Chandler, meanwhile, has played 90 minutes just five times all year, during which his team went 1-3-1. He's spent most of the season nursing various injuries including – yup – a  pulled hamstring, and (let's be charitable) he's never been a consistent performer for the US.
  • The fact that Beckerman and Kitchen are both on the team means that Michael Bradley will be playing as a No. 10, not a No. 6. He's been dynamite at d-mid for Toronto FC this year, just as he was three years ago for Roma when Daniele De Rossi was injured. But I guess we're not destined to see it in Red, White & Blue.
  • Matt Miazga (Chelsea) didn't make the cut. I get that Klinsmann considers Michael Orozco to be old reliable, a guy who can provide cover at multiple spots (Klinsmann started him in each of the first two qualifiers, once at right back and once at central defense), and after being an afterthought most of the season, he started each of Club Tijuana's last three games. True to form, one appearance was at right back, one at left back, and one in central defense.
    But like Chandler, Orozco has struggled to put together consistent, quality performances for the US. It would make more sense to me to bring Miazga, or – if Klinsmann is determined to have a bit more positional flexibility – Tim Ream (Fulham).

Guys who just missed the cut: Miazga, Castillo and Omar Gonzalez in defense. Omar has been an absolute rock in the back for Pachuca this year, and has his team one home result away from the Liguilla final. It would be kind of shocking if the US had two veteran international defenders in the two best Liga MX clubs, and neither could make the final roster of a huge tournament.

Nagbe almost certainly got the last midfield spot ahead of Mix Diskerud (NYCFC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution) and Alfredo Morales (FC Ingolstadt). Morales played about 1700 minutes in the Bundesliga this year, and this is the first time in the 30 years I've been following US soccer where we've had a regular at that level and been like "nah."

It looks like Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC) got pipped by Pulisic and Graham Zusi on the wing, while Chris Wondolowski got the nod over Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders) for the last forward spot. It's not what I'd have done, but Zusi and Wondo are both important parts of the team's locker room culture in terms of fitness and commitment during training.

Rest assured, though, we will have more commentary on Morris being left off in the coming days. I'm okay with it, but several of my colleagues are scandalized.

Final Roster

  • GK - Brad Guzan (Aston Villa / England)
  • GK - Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)  |  10 Things
  • GK - Ethan Horvath (Molde / Norway)
  • D - Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
  • D - Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United)  |  10 Things
  • D - John Brooks (Hertha Berlin / Germany)
  • D - Geoff Cameron (Stoke City / England)
  • D - Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt / Germany)
  • D - Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach / Germany)
  • D - Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana / Mexico)
  • D - DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland / England)
  • M - Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)
  • M - Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes / France)
  • M - Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
  • M - Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids)
  • M - Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian / Scotland)
  • M - Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)  |  Highlights
  • M - Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
  • F - Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC)
  • F - Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund / Germany)
  • F - Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
  • F - Bobby Wood (Union Berlin / Germany)
  • F - Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)  |  Highlights

The following players made the preliminary roster but were not in the final 23-man selection:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Ventura Alvarado (Club America / Mexico), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey / Mexico), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca / Mexico), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest / England), Matt Miazga (Chelsea FC / England), Tim Ream (Fulham / England)

Midfielders: Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt / Germany), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading FC / England)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)

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