Following a string of disappointing results—and largely uninspiring performances—in a spate of recent friendlies, the United States men’s national team now finds itself only three months away from this summer’s all-important Gold Cup, where victory assures the U.S. of a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has spent the eight months since last summer’s World Cup experimenting with new lineups and new formations, but when push comes to shove this summer, he knows he will need to eschew his tinkering and implement a more pragmatic, results-driven approach.
Here are the 23 players he’s likely to call in this summer.
Brad Guzan missed the U.S.’s recent friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland, but is still the team’s No. 1 in the net. Nick Rimando deputized admirably in both friendlies—despite being hung out to dry repeatedly by his defense—and is still the American’s No. 2.
The only real decision for Klinsmann is: Who gets the last goalkeeper spot on the roster?
Bill Hamid still appears to be the man to fill that spot, even after giving up four goals against Ireland in his last U.S. start. Sean Johnson is another candidate, and played the second half against Panama in February, but has been battling a number of bizarre injuries this season in Major League Soccer.
On the outside looking in are Southampton youngster Cody Cropper and recent call-up William Yarbrough.
Locks: Guzan, Rimando
On the Roster: Hamid
In the Hunt: Johnson, Cropper, Yarbrough
Surprisingly enough, the Americans are remarkably deep at outside back right now—even if there is no clear pecking order.
On the left, Greg Garza appeared to be cementing his spot in the starting XI last fall before a disastrous performance against Denmark two weeks ago. Against Switzerland, Garza was replaced by Brek Shea, who then put on his best performance yet in a U.S. jersey.
On the right, a battle is brewing between Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin. While Johnson has recently been used in the midfield for club and country, he is still a candidate to play in the back for the Americans, especially after Chandler continued his tendency towards game-changing mistakes in the March friendlies.
Yedlin still hasn’t broke in for Tottenham in England, but remains a key player to the U.S., whether in the back, or in the midfield.
Long shots for the team include Tim Ream and Robbie Rogers. Ream has played often on the left for Bolton this season, but rarely plays when called into the U.S. squad and does not appear to be a serious contender for a roster spot at the moment. Rogers looked like a lock for a January camp call-up, but was passed over and has—even by his own admission—not had a great start to his 2015 MLS campaign.
Locks: Garza, Shea, Johnson, Chandler, Yedlin
In the Hunt: Ream
No position on the U.S. Gold Cup roster is likely to have as much intrigue as center back. Klinsmann’s attempt to convert Jermaine Jones to the position has shown some promise, but also revealed some glaring weaknesses—especially in January against Chile.
Matt Besler, who was a hero at last summer’s World Cup, has been a shell of his former self since Brazil and could miss the roster entirely this time around. Many fans also still don’t seem to fully trust Omar Gonzalez, but Gonzalez played well against both Germany and Belgium in the World Cup and has proved his worth to the U.S. squad.
Geoff Cameron has gotten over a rough start to his Premier League season, but, shockingly, was not called into the U.S. camp for the March friendlies. However, despite consistent playing time in England, Cameron does have a tendency to give up early on plays and give up “soft” goals—not an endearing quality for a center back and one, unfortunately, shared by U.S. teammate John Anthony Brooks.
Likewise, the U.S. defense seemed to fall apart in the second half of both games in March, both times after recent call-up Ventura Alvarado was introduced into the match.
With every center back in the U.S. pool having a downside, Klinsmann could very well look for some new blood this summer.
Arguably, no player did more to boost their stock in March than Michael Orozco, who put forth two solid performances against Denmark and Switzerland and appeared, at times, to be the only U.S. defender not overwhelmed by the circumstances at hand. Ian Darke also reported during the Denmark game that Klinsmann said Orozco probably would have made the World Cup roster if not for an injury late last spring.
Finally, two MLS products, Steve Birnbaum and Matt Hedges, could sneak onto the roster. Birnbaum was particularly impressive against Chile in January, the only U.S. center back who didn’t struggle in that match. Hedges, however, appears a bit further off the pace, as he was a late call-up to the January camp and played only sparingly.
Locks: Jones, Gonzalez, Orozco
On the Roster: Cameron, Brooks
In the Hunt: Alvarado, Besler, Birnbaum, Hedges
The U.S. has plenty of depth in the center of the park, led by Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud. The troubling part, however, is that Klinsmann—despite all available evidence to the contrary—still sees Bradley as an attacking midfielder.
With players like Cameron, Jones and Bedoya all capable of playing in the middle if needed, Bradley and Diskerud are the only two locks. If Klinsmann brings an additional center midfielder, however, there are plenty of available options.
Kyle Beckerman certainly isn’t a long-term option for the team, but with this summer’s Gold Cup being so important, the Real Salt Lake man could still have a role to play for the Americans. Danny Williams and Alfredo Morales are also solidly in the mix and both started against Switzerland last week. Joe Corona, who was beginning to earn serious time in the fall before being sidelined with a foot injury, is now just starting to work his way back to club form.
Finally, youngsters Wil Trapp and Emerson Hyndman could sneak into the picture—but Hyndman will likely be playing with the U-20 team this summer in their World Cup.
Locks: Bradley, Diskerud
On the Roster: Beckerman
In the Hunt: Corona, Williams, Morales, Trapp, Hyndman
Picking which attacking midfielders or wingers might make the squad is tricky for a number of reasons. First, Yedlin, Johnson and Shea are all capable of playing on the wing. Second, Klinsmann has shown a clear preference towards playing either Bradley or Clint Dempsey in the No. 10 role. Finally, there are few players in the U.S. pool at those positions who have definitively proved their case for a roster spot.
At the top of the list is Alejandro Bedoya, who put in his best performance yet for the Nats against Switzerland last month. Lee Nguyen could also make the team, but doesn’t seem to have earned Klinsmann’s confidence just yet with limited minutes in his recent call-ups.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Joe Gyau looked promising before a knee injury in the fall sidelined him. Gedion Zelalem could certainly be in the mix if FIFA approves his paperwork in time.
Julian Green has endured nothing short of a nightmare season in the Bundesliga this year and Miguel Ibarra has yet to prove he can contribute at the international level. Graham Zusi is the U.S.’s forgotten man since his underwhelming performance in last summer’s World Cup and MLS youngsters Kelyn Rowe and Harry Shipp have yet to catch Klinsmann’s eye—despite some great play for their clubs.
On the Roster: Nguyen
In the Hunt: Zelalem, Green, Gyau, Ibarra, Zusi, Rowe, Shipp
Up top, Klinsmann will rely on veterans Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey to do the heavy lifting, but the U.S. still has a deep bench. Aron Johannsson has endured a 2014-15 campaign full of fits and starts and is still looking to fulfill the promise he demonstrated prior to last summer’s World Cup.
Terrence Boyd has begun jogging as he recovers from a knee injury, but it’s doubtful he makes it back for this summer. That will leave Klinsmann to choose from a batch of youngsters, including Rubio Rubin, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes.
Wood is close to returning from a knee injury of his own, while Rubin will likely get pulled into the U-20 team for their World Cup.
Morris—who still hasn’t turned pro—certainly has Klinsmann’s eye, but seems a reach to make the final 23. Zardes, for his part, certainly has the work rate to compete at the international level, but his touch is still wanting far too often.
Finally, although few U.S. fans want to hear it, Chris Wondolowski is still solidly in the picture.
Locks: Altidore, Dempsey, Johannsson
On the Roster: Wood, Zardes
In the Hunt: Boyd, Morris, Rubin, Wondolowski