On Saturday afternoon at halftime of a shockingly lopsided MLS New York Derby that was already 3-0 and on the way to a 7-0 New York Red Bulls win over New York City FC, the U.S. MNT revealed its 23 man COPA America roster.
There were no shocks on the scale of that 7-0 thrashing the Bulls laid on their Bronx rivals but being a Jurgen Klinsmann production, there were a few head scratchers. Also revealed on the Fox halftime show was that Klinsmann has ended his goaltender rotation, a welcome development ahead of the Copa America, although an eyebrow or two was likely raised when Brad Guzan was handed the number one designation over World Cup hero Tim Howard.
So here is a quick look, by position, at what we like and don’t about the U.S. COPA 23.
Goalkeeper. I have no problem with Howard taking a back seat to Guzan. Both players endured a tumultuous time in 2015-16 in England but while Guzan won his job back after losing it, Howard only got back into the lineup as a thank you and au revoir from Everton manager Roberto Martinez, who himself was sent packing before Howard’s emotional goodbye in Everton’s season finale.
I like that Ethan Horvath got the nod over dependable veteran Nick Rimando. Horvath starts for Molde in Norway and did well in the failed U.S. Olympic bid. I can’t imagine Horvath seeing the field in June but with both of his veterans struggling somewhat it might be worth taking a flyer on the future.
Defense. Tim Chandler, really? Chandler was a pretty exciting get when Klinsmann snared the Germerican as one of his first moves on becoming U.S. coach in 2011. Chandler looked good in some early friendlies but has failed to convince since, frankly appearing disinterested at times.
Klinsmann could have selected Edgar Castillo, a regular for Liga MX finalists Monterrey. Castillo also started the two most recent U.S. World Cup Qualifiers, so even if he is a bit of a weak link defensively, Castillo’s omission is a surprise.
Klinsmann could also have gone with long overlooked Nottingham Forest fullback Eric Lichaj. It was a shock to see Lichaj on the 40 man roster, unfortunately, it was less of a surprise to see the physical defender left out of the final 23.
And while Klinsmann selected Michael Orozco who made just three appearances this season for 14th place Tijuana, there was no room for Omar Gonzalez, the former L.A. Galaxy man who is a starter for Pachuca, Monterrey’s opponent in this week’s two-legged Liga MX Final.
Klinsmann likes Orozco’s versatility, and it is a plus that he somehow resisted the urge to pick Ventura Alvarado, but what about Tim Ream? Ream plays central defense and fullback like Orozco and is a better fullback than the Tijuana man while Gonzalez is clearly a better center back than the Tijuana man.
DC United middleman Steve Birnbaum also got the nod ahead of Gonzalez, a selection I have no problem with, although others may differ. One last bit of back line controversy involves Fabian Johnson who is listed as a defender, not as many would prefer in the midfield.
Bruce Arena used to say that Landon Donovan was the team’s best player at several positions, making it hard to decide where to pick Klinsmann’s old pal. Johnson presents a similar dilemma today.
Johnson scored a career-high seven Bundesliga goals for Borussia Monchengladbach this season playing as a wing midfielder but Klinsmann remembers Johnson’s fine play at left fullback for the U.S. in the 2014 World Cup, where the coach rated FabJo as one of the best fullbacks in Brazil.
With high caliber opposition at the COPA and some decent options in wide midfield roles, I don’t begrudge Klinsmann the right to slide Johnson back one position.
Perhaps hoping to keep Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay guessing U.S.Soccer listed midfielders and forwards as one unit when it released its 23 man roster.
Midfield/forward. The biggest surprise of the likely midfielders is d-mid Perry Kitchen, who plays for Heart of Midlothian in the Scottish Premier League. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but the former DC United man has played just 10 times since signing with the Scottish club in March while Alfredo Morales is a first 11 player for Ingolstadt in the Bundesliga.
The most exciting of the midfield/forward group is clearly 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund starlet Christian Pulisic, let’s just hope Klinsmann plays the kid. Darlington Nagbe also earned a spot, can he step up and fill the huge creativity void in the U.S. midfield? Will he be given the chance?
Although he is not in great goal scoring form veteran Clint Dempsey tends to score when it matters, so he leads the forward group where the biggest misstep for me is Klinsmann’s choice of Chris Wondolowski over Jordan Morris.
Yes, Wondo is tied for second in MLS with seven goals but Morris has four and minus the San Jose man’s two pk’s, Morris is just one back. More important however is the feeling that at 33 we know what Wondolowski is at the international level while the 21-year-old Morris is just getting started.
So, that’s my take on the COPA 23. On the one hand, there is enough depth that Kinsmann can leave out a Bundesliga starter and two defenders set to meet in the Liga MX Final. There are young and youngish players to be excited about, like Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, Bobby Wood, and Nagbe. Young vets Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, and Alejandro Bedoya are established in top European leagues and MLS stars like Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Gyasi Zardes will be looking to show their wares with the world watching (hopefully).
Whether it comes together or not will be up to the players and up to Klinsmann. The Gold Cup, the Olympic flameout, the loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, and the World Cup Qualifier loss to Guatemala in March are recent stains on this team’s resume.
Those stains are deep and they won’t be easily scrubbed clean. June 3rd in Santa Clara, California the Americans begin COPA play against a tough opponent, Colombia.
A good showing by the U.S. MNT would go a long way towards polishing that sullied rep. A bad result would only deepen the stain.
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), 12-Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), 22-Ethan Horvath (Molde IK)
DEFENDERS (8): 5-Matt Besler (Sporting KC), 3-Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), 6-John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), 20-Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), 21-Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), 23-Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), 14-Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), 2-DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
MIDFIELDERS/FORWARDS (12): 15-Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), 11-Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), 4-Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), 8-Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), 13-Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), 16-Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian), 10-Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), 17-Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), 18-Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), 7-Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV), 20-Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), 19-Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)