By Paul Kennedy
Gold Cup rosters are due Thursday -- 23 players trimmed down from 35 for the Concacaf tournament that kicks off July 7.
For the United States, play begins on July 9 against Belize in Portland, four days after a friendly against Guatemala in San Diego. Predicting the 23-player Gold Cup roster is nowhere as easy as predicting a 23-player roster for a World Cup qualifier.
But answers to these questions will go a long way toward determining which players Coach Jurgen Klinsmann will take:
-- How much of the team Klinsmann started in the three June World Cup qualifiers does he keep intact for the Gold Cup?
As many as six players who started at least two of the qualifiers are on the short list of 35 -- including the entire backline of Brad Evans, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and DaMarcus Beasley.
Given their inexperience -- Besler and Gonzalez, the No. 1 choices at center back, have less than 20 caps between them, and Evans and Beasley are converted midfielders -- the Gold Cup will be a chance for the unit to get more seasoning. All but Evans would be Klinsmann's likely No. 1 pick if he had his whole team together.
The other starters from the June qualifiers are Graham Zusi, who started two games at right midfield, and Eddie Johnson, who started at right midfield when Zusi was suspended and at left midfield but could also start up front front.
-- Does Klinsmann takeHerculez GomezandBrek Sheaor let them continue to recuperate from injuries that kept them out of the June qualifiers and join their clubs?
In both cases, rehab is only part of the issue. In the case of Gomez, he just joined a new club, Tijuana, while Shea is still trying to break into the Stoke City first team, where Mark Hughes has replaced Tony Pulis as manager.
-- Which three keepers does Klinsmann take out of the four he rotated through as the No. 3 keeper during the recent series of five games and how does he use them at the Gold Cup?
There is not much separating Tally Hall, Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson and Nick Rimando, all MLS keepers. Klinsmann could rotate them through like he did during the recent series, going with two keepers and allowing the third to play for his MLS team (though Hamid's D.C. United is off for the entire group stage). Or Klinsmann could even give the three keepers each a game in group play, and bring in the fourth to start the knockout stage.
-- Does Klinsmann bring inCarlos Bocanegra,Oguchi OnyewuandLandon Donovan, all veterans of the last two World Cup campaigns but players he has not used in the 2013 qualifiers?
In the order of probability, you'd go with 1) Donovan, 2) Bocanegra and 3) Onyewu. While Klinsmann would likely say Graham Zusi and Brad Davis are his first choices for the outside midfield positions for the Gold Cup -- or even go with Eddie Johnson if he isn't used up front -- but he could use Donovan as the second forward he doesn't have in the positionClint Dempsey filled so well recently.
As for Bocanegra and Onyewu, they play a position at which Klinsmann does need to look at in terms of backup help, fourth or fifth on the depth, depending on the role he sees for Geoff Cameron, who can also start in midfield or right back.
If Klinsmann takes both Gonzalez and Besler, there's probably no need to take both Bocanegra and Onyewu, so the likely pick would be Bocanegra, who did finish the season starting at Racing Santander and is likely seeking a move back to MLS with the '14 World Cup in mind. Onyewu did not play in the final months of his loan spell at Malaga.
Who does Klinsmann go with in attack?
Johnson, Donovan and Gomez would seem locks, but after that Klinsmann has lots of choices.
The hottest players on the Gold Cup preliminary roster are Jack McInerney, tied for the MLS scoring lead with 10 goals, and Alejandro Bedoya, who has five goals in 11 games for red-hot Swedish club Helsingborg.
Some of his other attacking options include the likes of Chris Wondolowski, Will Bruin and Alan Gordon, who combined for 52 goals in 2012 but have only nine between them in 2013.
-- How does Klinsmann use his post-group stage call-up options if at all?
Concacaf inserted a new rule, allowing teams to make up to four roster switches between the group and knockout stages of the Gold Cup. The conventional wisdom was that it would allow teams involved in World Cup qualifying a chance to call back in players who needed rest after the June qualifiers. But all the U.S. players who played in the June qualifiers and are on the preliminary Gold Cup roster are either in MLS or on Mexican teams, who are already preparing for the start of the Apertura 2013 in July.
U.S. preliminary roster:
Goalkeepers:Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
Defenders:Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla, Mexico), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander, Spain), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana, Mexico), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Oguchi Onyewu (Malaga, Spain), Michael Orozco (Puebla, Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg, Germany).
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsingborg, Sweden), Joe Corona (Tijuana, Mexico), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg, Norway), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Josh Gatt (Molde, Norway), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers, England), Brek Shea (Stoke City, England), Jose Torres (Tigres, Mexico), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Forwards:Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Herculez Gomez (Tijuana, Mexico), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich, Germany).