Bruce Arena has assembled his 23-man squad for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup. But wait, first comes an international friendly against Ghana on Saturday that will help to set the stage for the tournament. The United States roster is comprised of an eclectic mix of players, all who are hoping use this friendly and the Gold Cup to propel them towards selection for the 2018 World Cup. The USMNT would love to get out of the blocks with a win against Ghana, but Arena knows that the important match coming up is against Panama on July 8th to kick off Group B play.
There are 16 players that currently play in Major League Soccer on the roster and four debutants: Dom Dwyer of Sporting Kansas City, Cristian Roldan of the Seattle Sounders, Kelyn Rowe of the New England Revolution, and Kenny Saief of KAA Gent in Belgium.
The United States and Ghana have met in the last three World Cups, with Ghana coming out on top in 2006 and 2010 by a 2-1 margin and the United States emerging victorious in the 2014 World Cup by the same 2-1 score.
D (1-1) - Mexico - WCQ
W (2-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
D (1-1) - Venezuela - Friendly
D (1-1) - Panama - WCQ
W (6-0) - Honduras - WCQ
L (0-1) - Mexico - Friendly
W (5-0) - Ethiopia - 2019 AFCONQ
D (1-1) - Benin - Friendly
L (0-1) - Burkina Faso - 2017 AFCON 3rd Place Match
L (0-2) - Cameroon - 2017 AFCON Semifinal
What to Watch for
Substitutions: Expect the substitutes to start coming on at halftime for the USA. With so many new faces on the roster, Arena will want to get a look at as many players as he can to see if they will suit his needs moving forward. Make no mistake, this game is all about finding who may be able to make a contribution for the Gold Cup and potentially the 2018 World Cup.
A Balanced Starting Eleven: Don’t expect all of the debutants to be on the field together. Arena is on the conservative side when it comes to using a lot of new players. Even though this game is a tune up for the Gold Cup and the roster is quite different then what the United States usually roles out, there will still be plenty of veterans on the field. There are five players with over 35 caps on the roster (Brad Guzan, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi, and Alejandro Bedoya). Look for several of these players to take leading roles against Ghana.
An Attacking Style of Play: The USMNT will attempt to be aggressive in the game as that is how they will be playing in all of the group matches in the Gold Cup. Even though Ghana may offer stiffer opposition than their upcoming Group B opponents, especially Martinique and Nicaragua, it makes no sense to sit back and play defensively or even on the counter, as the United States should be the team pushing the play throughout the tournament.
There has been no word as of yet on possible formations against Ghana. Therefore, I will provide two different formations, the 3-4-3 that was used against Mexico and the 4-4-2 Diamond that was used against Trinidad and Tobago:
The starters that I have in both formations are Guzan, Besler, Gonzalez, Dax McCarty, Kellyn Acosta, and Juan Agudelo. Guzan is the unquestionable #1 goalkeeper in the squad and the likely captain. If Guzan doesn’t start, expect Besler to wear the armband. Besler, as a left footed center back, makes the most sense on the left center of a three- or four-man backline. Gonzalez has the experience that Arena is looking for and has been playing well in Mexico. Dax McCarty’s inclusion may surprise some people, but he is currently the number two defensive midfielder behind Michael Bradley. Kellyn Acosta has earned his place with a good showing in Mexico. Juan Agudelo is one of only three strikers in the squad and he has the most international experience.
The 3-4-3 has Jeremy Morrow and Kenny Saief on the left side. Morrow has been tremendous for Eastern Conference leading Toronto FC in a wing back role. Saief is the debutant with the most impressive pedigree and he should be on the field for this match if the USMNT plays with a left winger. Graham Zusi is the best option as a right wing back even though he plays right back at his club team. Paul Arriola, who started in Mexico, appears to be on the cusp of regular inclusion into the national team picture.
As for the 4-4-2 Diamond, Jorge Villafana is the number one left back on the depth chart right now. Eric Lichaj should have been in the squad for years and will start at fullback in any four-man defensive line. I have Bedoya in the midfield because of his leadership and experience. Kelyn Rowe has been playing well for the New England Revolution and is really the only player that is a natural number 10, even though he doesn’t always play there with his club. I have Jordan Morris up top because he has been there before and because Dom Dwyer is usually alone up front.
I can see Dwyer, Christian Roldan, Joe Corona, and Gyasi Zardes getting minutes in addition to the starters.
Give your picks in the Comments section below.