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2017 Gold Cup: An early USMNT roster forecast

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It’s far too soon to predict just who will be suiting up for the U.S. at the Gold Cup this summer. But that won’t stop us from trying.

MLS: FC Dallas at San Jose Earthquakes John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get one thing out of the way: there is an unrealistic amount of time between now and the Gold Cup to predict the roster Bruce Arena will bring to the tournament with any sort of accuracy. It will already be a weird one to predict anyway, this being the traditional “off-year” Gold Cup where many teams bring B or B+ teams to compete. At least, that was what happened in 2013 when the United States won with a team featuring Brek Shea, Stu Holden, Mix Diskerud, Eddie Johnson, Clarence Goodson, Joe Corona, Chris Wondolowski, and Landon Donovan. But in the midst of the Hex and with a partial berth to the 2021 Confederations Cup on the line, I wouldn’t put it past Arena to bring along a healthy group of 1st teamers in order to continue building continuity in the group and keep them fit throughout the summer.

So, with so many variables at play, think of this prediction more like a Farmer’s Almanac. It’s not going to be exact, but shows the trends emerging in Arena’s roster selections and attempts to predict who is up next for the USMNT. It’s part weather forecast, part wish list, and still in a a nebulous period where a lot can change. That is part of what makes it exciting.

Goalkeepers:

Nick Rimando, Bill Hamid, Tim Melia

I fully expect Arena to include first team regulars and veterans in this roster, but I also think it will be guys that are usually depth picks for the full USMNT. Nick Rimando looks like he might finally be losing a step or two in MLS play, and I expect this will be a good opportunity for Arena to evaluate someone like Bill Hamid against him. I choose Melia here as the wildcard third keeper pick, a spot that could just as easily go to someone like William Yarbrough, Ethan Horath, Zack Steffen, David Bingham, or Luis Robles. But Horvath hasn’t played this season, Bingham has been fairly terrible since last November, and Robles, Steffen, and Yarbrough haven’t been overly impressive. Melia has been making some stunning saves for Sporting KC, and I think Bruce will be curious to see him in camp.

Defenders:

Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Eric Lichaj, Greg Garza, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Timmy Chandler, Jorge Villafaña, Cameron Carter-Vickers

Addressing the elephant in the group: I do not think Cameron Carter-Vickers is ready for this level quite yet. He struggled at the U-23 level, he’s looked alternately ahead of his years and out of his depth in his limited time for Tottenham, and there’s a good chance he’ll be on the U20 World Cup squad again this summer. But the possibility of cap-tying the youngster in an official competition might be too strong a temptation for Bruce to shake. And make no mistake: the only reason you bring CCV is to cap-tie him. Just because he has the potential to be great (which he does) does not mean he is currently great (which he is not). He’s 19. It’s ok.

Elsewhere this is mostly USMNT defensive depth options looking to move themselves up the depth chart. Eric Lichaj, Omar Gonzalez, and Tim Ream look to be established back-ups and experienced players Bruce will bring because he wants to win. Walker Zimmerman, Matt Hedges, Timmy Chandler, and Greg Garza are guys that could very easily shake up that depth chart. Villafaña looks like he might be first choice already, but he’s still new enough to the set-up that he needs to keep earning that spot. Brooks will be eased back after his injury, Arena will want to limit the miles on Geoff Cameron’s legs at this point in his career, and I think DeAndre Yedlin’s place in the team is sure enough that Arena would rather see the positional battle between Chandler and Lichaj.

Midfielders:

Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta, Emerson Hyndman, Darlington Nagbe, Dax McCarty, Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola, Sacha Kljestan

Yes, I picked Captain Bradley, along with Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe, because I do think there will be a mix of starters in this group as well. I think it will be far more an A- team than a true B team, and while their will be people getting opportunities this summer, I also think it will be more along the lines of “second-stringers starting” than people that have never gotten an International look barging into the starting lineup. I think Kellyn Acosta and Emerson Hyndman will finally get the more extensive first team looks most people have wanted for a while now, and I also think (desperately hope) Paul Arriola takes Alejandro Bedoya’s spot on the national team for good this summer. Sacha is here because there’s always room for someone who can pass like him, and I still think Arena is trying to figure out where he fits into his current player pool.

Apologies to the Danny Williams and Alfredo Morales fans here, but it seems like Arena isn’t very interested in them, given his past comments and call-ups given this year. Acosta and Hyndman are the younger, sexier options that both play the box-to-box role that Williams and Morales tend to play at the club level (although both tend to play roaming destroyers instead of providing a bigger attacking threat like their younger counterparts, the occasional Williams bomb notwithstanding). I also didn’t pick Jermaine Jones here, but I really have no clue where he factors in to Arena’s plans right now.

Forwards:

Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes, Dom Dwyer

Just because there’s an opportunity to blood new players doesn’t mean Arena also won’t want to win this tournament, and the forward pool is much more cut and dry than others. Clint Dempsey does not need to prove himself after his spring, and he also doesn’t need this tournament on his 34 year old legs. Wood, Altidore, and Morris can pick up the slack. The only real battle will be for the last striker spot, the one Chris Wondolowski has inhabited for the last 3 years. Dom Dwyer is a decent option for the role after becoming a citizen this year, and I’m guessing Arena will want to see what Zardes has after such a long injury lay-off.

Bonus Round/Dark Horse Candidates:

Ike Opara

This depends mostly on Opara’s health, but he has the ability to dominate boxes and delete attackers in the open field. On his day, he is the most dominant defender in MLS, and a more physically imposing option than his teammate Matt Besler.

Tyler Adams

They U.S. U20s beat Mexico and won CONCACAF U20 World Cup Qualifying largely thanks to Adams, and the 18 year old has already leapfrogged Sean Davis, the man originally tasked with replacing Dax McCarty, in the Red Bulls lineup. There are plenty of other central midfielders in this group already, but Adams has proved his development curve has accelerated light years since the 2015 U17 World Cup.

Joe Corona

It might sound like a weird suggestion given his prolonged absence from the national team, but Corona is still only 26. He’s only 10 days older than Darlington Nagbe. He’s also found a groove again in Tijuana, and his vision and set-piece prowess still have value on this squad.

Tommy McNamara

TommyMac will not get called up for this. But I can still dream, ok?

What players do you want to see at the Gold Cup this summer? Let us know in the comments!