The first three games of the Gold Cup campaign for the United States have come and gone, with the team managing to squeak out as Group B winners. They started with a disappointing draw against Panama, followed by a disappointing 3-2 win over Martinique. Finally, a late goal gave them a 3-0 victory over Nicaragua, the exact win they needed to win the group.
Six players have been added to the USMNT squad to help them through the knockout rounds, and six (somewhat surprising) players have been sent home. Before we move on to Wednesday’s game, let’s look at the three players who most improved their stock to make the 2018 World Cup roster and the three who hurt their stock the most.
Probably the biggest surprise of the tournament has been Kelyn Rowe. Before the game against Ghana, he had never even stepped onto the field in a USA jersey, but he quickly became a focal point of the team. He played in three games (Ghana, Panama, and Nicaragua), and he was one of the most dangerous players in all three. The pressure of the Gold Cup and the attention suddenly falling on him never even made him flinch, and he even scored his first goal against Nicaragua. This writer doesn’t really understand why he got sent home, but he goes home with a raised stock and the approval of many fans.
His “eh” outing against Nicaragua has tempered some of the praise coming his direction, but there is no denying he helped his stock over the last few weeks. He scored against Ghana and Panama, and he showed his hustle and work rate in all of his games. He had an opportunity to raise his stock even higher, but he took a relatively poor penalty against Nicaragua that got saved. In the end, he came into July with a lot of fans wondering where he fit into the depth chart, and he at least asserted himself into the mix with players like Jordan Morris for the fourth forward spot behind Wood, Altidore, and Dempsey.
Coming into this tournament, many fans thought that we would begin to see Alejandro Bedoya fade out of the national team. He isn’t lightning fast or super flashy, but he is a great utility. He captained the team, showed his hustle, and made a number of key passes throughout the group stage (like hitting Eric Lichaj against Martinique and assisting two goals against Nicaragua). He also played wide and centrally throughout the group. Is he a starter for the World Cup? No. However, he did assert himself back into the fold as a good utility bench player.
Matt Hedges was one of the names we were all excited to see when the roster came out. Unfortunately, he had a little bit of a rough game against Martinique, and that was the only real chance he got during the group. On top of that the USA has a number of fairly established CBs in John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and *cough* Omar Gonzalez *cough*. To make things worse, Matt Miazga seems to have done a better job taking his chance so far, so Hedges is going to have to have a great knockout stage to really battle for a World Cup spot.
Coming into the tournament, there were not a lot of fans very high on the experiment of Graham Zusi as a right back. Unfortunately, I don’t feel much better about it after the group stage. He struggled heavily against Panama, and his defense wasn’t great against Nicaragua. One thing he did fairly well was get forward and hit some decent crosses, including the assist on the Miazga goal, but I don’t think that does enough to cover for the liability he seems to be at right back. He is still clearly behind DeAndre Yedlin and Timmy Chandler, and he didn’t do anything to argue that he is above Eric Lichaj or some of the other reserve options the USA has.
Cristian Roldan was another name people really wanted to see on the Gold Cup roster, but he also let us down. He only managed to get onto the field in one game, and that game was a struggle. He should have been head-and-shoulders above Martinique in talent, but he did not do much to stand out. With Michael Bradley coming in, he falls even further down the Gold Cup depth chart, so he may not see the field again this tournament. It appears that he is squarely behind Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty in addition to the A-squad members, so the World Cup seems like a long shot at the moment.
Have any other winners and losers? Let me know in the comments.