That the U.S. MNT has a busy and important summer ahead was a known, just how busy was highlighted with Saturday’s announcement of the 40 man provisional roster for July’s Gold Cup, revealed at halftime of the U.S. vs. Venezuela friendly.
That friendly ended in a 1-1 draw as the Americans prepare for a pair of crucial World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago, Thursday at 7:50 ET in Colorado, and Mexico, in Mexico City, Sunday at 8:30 ET.
Understandably the WCQ take priority and with that in mind, several first team players have been left off the Gold Cup roster. That said, there are still plenty of surprises in this group, on both the inclusion and exclusion list.
Bruce Arena will have until June 27 to submit his final 23 man roster and all 23 must come from this provisional list.
Any roster will incite debate, with everyone having their own favorites and least favorites. So, let’s go by position.
With six goalkeepers selected, we might expect that the selection drama would come on the 27th but there are still a couple keepers that may feel aggrieved.
Arena selected his top two keepers in Howard and Guzan and the rest have solid claims but a couple of recent call-ups that did not receive an invite are David Bingham and Luis Robles, while Sporting KC’s Tim Melia, he of the league best 78.6 save %, may also be feeling somewhat snubbed.
In the defense, another KC man tops my list of the snubbed, Ike Opara. Physically gifted, yet seemingly perpetually injured, Opara has been healthy this year and he is playing like it. The Gold Cup seemed like an ideal time for Arena to give Opara a look but the boss looked elsewhere. Maybe in January?
Midfield has a raft of worthy candidates but with only so many places to fill there was always going to be a few good players left out. The creative trio of Benny Feilhaber, Sasha Kljestan, and Lee Nguyen top my list. When Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann Kljestan and Feilhaber looked set to battle for the midfield maestro job, now neither can even get on the Gold Cup roster, never mind the WCQ team. New England Revolution star Nguyen is cut from a similar cloth to Kljestan and Feilhaber and is having a better season than either, racking up an impressive six goals and seven assists so far in 2017.
The other much-discussed omission is Danny Williams. Like his more attack-minded counterparts Williams has never been able to lock down a steady invite to the national team. The Reading man has always been on the fringes and even after an impressive season with promotion chasing Reading Williams remains on the outside looking in.
The forward group has the least surprises with Minnesota striker Christian Ramirez the one glaring omission. Ramirez has graduated from the NASL seamlessly to lead Minnesota with eight goals, tied with Philadelphia’s C.J. Sapong, who did get a warranted nod for the most by an American player in MLS.
Ramirez has racked up those eight goals without the benefit of scoring any from the spot, making his Gold Cup slight all the more a surprise.
And what about the surprise inclusions? There were a few and not necessarily because of quality.
Goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez is perhaps the biggest longshot on this roster and for U.S. supporters, the FC Dallas keeper’s inclusion is a happy one. The 22-year-old North Carolina-born, FC Dallas Homegrown netminder has vacillated between playing for the U.S. and playing for Mexico, who he has represented at the U20 and U23 level.
Gonzalez reportedly accepted and then rejected a call to U.S. MNT camp in January 2016. Gonzalez has reportedly said that if he makes the Gold Cup roster, he will go. Stuart Holden has reported that Mexico has let it be known that if Gonzalez does not play at the Gold Cup for the U.S. that El Tri would call him in soon.
On to the defense which has several notable inclusions. Matt Miazga spent a successful loan stint in the Netherlands with Vitesse Arnhem and even if he doesn’t know where he will be playing in the 2017/18 season, the former N.Y. Red Bulls center back knows that he has a good chance to spend July playing in the Gold Cup.
FC Dallas center back Matt Hedges has been among the best defenders in MLS over the past few season’s, winning Defender of the Year honors last season. Still, Hedges has little national team experience, racking up just his second U.S. cap on Saturday when he turned in a composed performance versus Venezuela.
Eric Lichaj has long been passed over, picking up the odd cap here and there, while impressing year after year for English Championship club Nottingham Forest.
Kenny Saief is the name that jumps out from the midfield group. The Israeli-American plays currently for Gent in Belgium and has represented Israel at various youth levels and has even lined out for the full Israel side in a couple of friendlies.
Arena has rewarded some MLS talents with calls, including Kelyn Rowe, Tommy McNamara, Christian Roldan, and veteran Chris Pontius while also giving Mexico-based Joe Corona a recall.
Up top, Juan Agudelo, with seven goals in just 10 games and eight goal man C.J. Sapong earned Arena’s call, and even if more than a few U.S. fans are fed up with him, Chris Wondolowski is still producing, so his inclusion was expected.
The interesting one here is newly minted U.S. citizen Dom Dwyer. The SKC man has been a consistent goal scorer in MLS, so he deserves a look.
Of this 40 just 23 will make the final group. Some first teamers are included, like Howard and Bradley, there are a few young up and comers in the group, including Jesse Gonzalez, Miazga, Christian Roldan ( who also has other national team options), and there are some that may have thought a call would never come.
June 27 will reveal the final 23, then it is on to Nashville for camp on June 25, East Hartford for a friendly versus Ghana, and then finally the Gold Cup.
The U.S. open Group B play in Nashville on July 8 vs. Panama, move on to Tampa to face Martinique on July 12 and finish group play three days later in Cleveland where Nicaragua will provide the opposition.
GOALKEEPERS (6): Joe Bendik (Orlando City SC), Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
DEFENDERS (12): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/ENG), Matt Miazga (Chelsea/ENG), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC/CAN), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Jonathan Spector (Orlando City SC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (15): Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana/MEX), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/MEX), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Tommy McNamara (New York City FC), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kenny Saief (Gent/BEL), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
FORWARDS (7): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), C.J. Sapong (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)