Projecting USA's Copa America Centenario roster

By Ridge Mahoney

March wasn’t the best month for U.S. Soccer’s elite men’s teams and thus the plan going forward for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is rife with possibilities.

Had the USA swept Guatemala, Klinsmann might have taken a different approach at the Copa America Centenario in June. It will probably clinch a berth in the Hexagonal anyway when it plays St. Vincent & The Grenadines in its next qualifier, but there’s a final group game against Trinidad & Tobago to consider as a possible audition for players trying to crack the top tier of Hexagonal candidates.

He no longer needs to worry about grooming the U-23s for the Olympic Games after their elimination by Colombia, yet few of them showed enough to merit serious consideration to face Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay in group play. If they are be factors in the Hex, this is the opportunity to test them against solid opposition before risking them against the cream  -- such as it is -- of Concacaf in do-or-die matches.

Here’s a rundown of how the 23-man Centenario squad might look, along with other players who will be considered.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Ethan Horvath.

The battle for No. 1 will continue, barring an injury, down the stretch to the Centenario. Guzan holds the edge even as Aston Villa slides toward relegation, as Howard is riding pine at Everton and can’t be registered by Colorado until the domestic transfer window opens July 4.

Now, would Klinsmann elect to keep Howard off the roster and add another veteran, such as Nick Rimando? The head coach always cites current form as a critical factor in his evaluations, but he doesn’t always follow up: he picked Howard for the first game against Guatemala even though the keeper hadn’t played in two months for Everton. Howard looked a bit rusty in Guatemala City but remember he was playing regularly back in October and still Klinsmann opted for Guzan in the Concacaf Cup playoff against Mexico.

Bill Hamid is rehabbing a torn meniscus and thus the door is open for a younger keeper to step through. Both Horvath and Cody Cropper played well for the U-23s in their futile Olympic playoff against Colombia, but Horvath proved to be superior with an excellent performance in the second match. The domestic pool of young MLS goalies doesn’t match up to this pair.

DEFENDERS (8): Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Fabian Johnson, Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin.

If Klinsmann wants width on the left side of midfield, he can put either Johnson or Brek Shea further up the field and go again at left back with Edgar Castillo, who started both games against Guatemala and rarely was tested. Shea was a regular once Klinsmann took over in 2011 and got his last start against Costa Rica.

A starting slot at left back for Johnson might slice Castillo off the roster, and despite a rough game against Guatemala, if Omar Gonzalez continues his good play for Pachuca he could be on the 23-man squad. But the luxury of a fourth centerback may not suit the coach’s plans, especially if Klinsmann wants to broaden his options in midfield. A lot hinges on what he decides to do at left back, and right back if Yedlin picks up an injury. Ream can play in the middle as well and could thus be the fourth centerback at the expense of Gonzalez. Ream started the last three games of 2015 but has been in and out of the starting lineup for Fulham the past three months.

Klinsmann has yet to select a centerback pairing he prefers, but had Brooks been healthy for the Guatemala series he’d likely have cemented a spot in the starting lineup. His partner could be any one of several, but Besler or Cameron head the list of candidates. The status of Michael Orozco is, as usual, impossible to assess.

MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Darlington Nagbe, Lee Nguyen, Danny Williams, Graham Zusi.

The inclusion of both Beckerman and Jones would probably preclude the selection of Perry Kitchen, whose winter move to Hearts might move him off the radar screen at least for the time being.

The opposition at the Centenario will be tough, and so starts could be hard to come by for Nguyen and Nagbe unless they are pushed to the flanks in a four- or five-man midfield. Bedoya can play on either side and unless he’s banged up or burned out by the European season Klinsmann will rely on his savvy and skill to break down defenses. Zusi answered the bell as a late call-up for the second Guatemala game and got a nice goal for his trouble. He’s still in the picture and a string of good games for SKC could knock Ethan Finlay out of contention. Finlay started against Iceland and came on very late in the Canada game but played only briefly in the second leg against Guatemala.

It would be a bold move for Klinsmann to roll out a 4-3-3 formation at the Centenario as he did in the second game against Guatemala; against tough opposition, could he risk a midfield triumvirate of Jones, Beckerman and Bradley, and inject Nagbe or Nguyen as attacking subs? Or could Nguyen or Finlay be pushed up top to play on the wing? What role, if any, can Williams play and will he have time to refresh; he's already played 42 games for Reading and the USA since August. He's scored seven goals, including the only U.S. score in the 4-1 loss to Brazil last September.

If Klinsmann still has faith in Mix Diskerud the central slots are even more clogged. Diskerud has a lot more national team experience than Nagbe or Nguyen. But he seems to be a man without a position and could be edged out unless Klinsmann decides to pick either Nagbe or Nguyen and exclude the other

FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Gyasi Zardes.

Zardes has played mostly midfield for the U.S. and it’s not like Klinsmann is flush with options for the wide slots, so if Zardes is on the squad that bumps off a midfielder. But who gets a slot up front?

Jordan Morris isn’t off to a great start in MLS, and Klinsmann is almost certain to choose Wood, who played on the wing in the 4-3-3 formation deployed in the second game against Guatemala. The fact is, after Altidore and Dempsey, there aren’t a lot of options up top; Aron Johannsson’s injury will sideline him for the rest of the Bundesliga season, and if Klinsmann decides the best option for Morris is to train with Seattle, he could keep Chris Wondolowski in the picture as the most experienced alternative. Rubio Rubin (just returning from injury at FC Utrecht) is a longshot as is Julian Green (who didn't even dress second game of U-23 playoff series).

Against Guatemala, Wood displayed the combativeness needed at this level but he also showed an aversion to rough treatment. He’ll need to sharpen his touch and increase his guile to shine at the Centenario. Otherwise, the U.S. will again have skimpy alternatives other than Altidore and Dempsey to produce goals.

17 comments about "Projecting USA's Copa America Centenario roster".
  1. Wooden Ships, April 2, 2016 at 9:05 a.m.

    Good stuff Ridge. As you've touched on, many things can take place before JK selects a roster. While the 2nd Guatemala match looked good the Centenario will be tougher for sure. For me Zardes, Mix and Shea are out of their league here. Zardes speed won't be a factor against this competition, Mix to slow, Shea not ready. I would do what I could to win or at least not allow any of these teams to dominate the midfield ( tall order I know ). If our speed at switching fields would increase, it would give us a better chance of getting on the end of crosses, as I just can't see us going through the middle with short combinations. At best, against this completion Deuce might be a 60 minute player as there will need to be real pressure applied. I can't gripe any longer about defending because in nearly every match we ask them to defend, defend, defend. If we have a good showing it has to be because we are playing mostly in the other 2 thirds.

  2. Allan Lindh, April 2, 2016 at 11:01 a.m.

    Time to make the obvious move and put Bradley at holding mid, and give Bedoya the #10. And include Jordan Morris and Chris Pulisic in the squad, by far the best shots for the future. Wondo and Beckerman have had their runs, not relevant two years from now. Main thing is to stop around with the back line, and give the central jobs to Brooks and Cameron, Yedlin the right side, Johnson? on the left. Let them start working every match to solidify with Bradley as a back line. And I don't care how old Cameron is. When is the last time a US player was a solid regular in defense in the EPL? And on a pretty good side at that. Wonder if Mark Hughes would take the US job?

  3. Wooden Ships replied, April 2, 2016 at 1:50 p.m.

    I can't disagree with any of that Allan. And, I too like Hughes but that would probably hurt the many years he has ahead of him in the Barclays.

  4. Allan Lindh replied, April 4, 2016 at 2:57 p.m.

    Yes, but it might set him up for the England job. At least he would know to put Cameron at holding mid, pick a back line and stick with it.

  5. beautiful game, April 2, 2016 at 11:12 a.m.

    This projected lineup is the same old USMNT mix. We need to prep new blood to this roster, not the constant revolving door of players who can't perform on a consistent basis.

  6. Wooden Ships replied, April 2, 2016 at 2:03 p.m.

    So true I w. While I hope Ridge is wrong about some of the mids and forwards I'm curious if he thinks that's what JK will do or if its his preference. Like Allan above its time to commit to the ones he mentioned and maybe a couple more to start the transition for the remaining qualifiers and ultimately 2018 Russia. Additionally, I'm not so sure Horvath isn't already our best Keeper. JK has to overcome the youth fear.

  7. Daniel Clifton, April 2, 2016 at 12:16 p.m.

    I would like to see Nagbe and Nguyen get a chance to play. These guys have skills that could be used to create offense and possession. I find it really frustrating watching this coaches player selection. He for years has talked out of both sides of his mouth. He wants to play a more proactive style but he won't put the players with the skills to do that on the field. We keep seeing Jermaine Jones. This guy is going to be too old to play in the next World Cup. Beckerman will also be too old for the next World Cup. As many other people are suggesting put Bradley in front of the back four as a true number six. Play the same guys in the back four. Klinsmann keeps switching them over and over. They can't develop any continuity. These are such basic concepts. How can a guy who is coaching at such a high level not see this.

  8. Wooden Ships replied, April 2, 2016 at 6:56 p.m.

    Definitely Daniel, with Nagbe and Nyugen. It's so remote evidently that Feilhaber isn't even mentioned. Need skilled players.

  9. j bapper, April 2, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    Enough with J Jones, Beckerman and Wondoloski. Their time is over! It honestly doesn't matter if we win Copa Centenario or even if we advance out of our group. Zardes is a joke... I've seen U12 players with a better first touch. Zusi? Give me a break! Start building for 2018 and beyond. Nagbe, Nguyen, Yedlin, Fabian, Wood, Pulisic, Brooks, Rubin... those guys are young, exciting, have pace and actually have technical ability... unlike some of these other players that have been with the team for years. Give Horvath a legitimate shot at GK. Howard has seen better days and Horvath has a big upside. As far as the U-23's, I didn't see one player against Colombia that should be given a shot with the Sr. National team.

  10. Wooden Ships replied, April 2, 2016 at 2:06 p.m.

    Ditto J.

  11. Ric Fonseca replied, April 2, 2016 at 6:17 p.m.

    I agree, however, I'd not have Bradley in this group of players. I am still not quite convinced that he's capable of doing even yeoman's work in the MF.

  12. Wooden Ships replied, April 2, 2016 at 7:10 p.m.

    I'm ready to move on from him too Ric. Having that holding-sitting mid predicates a style(s) of play. I'd prefer to have mids, players recognize zonal to man defending as needed rather than anchoring a player to a designated role and space. It is a position used with many teams these days. If JK insists on being wedded to MB, which he appears to be (like JA), then the holding mid is the best place, I guess, to stick him. I would prefer to use/develop Danny Williams.

  13. beautiful game, April 2, 2016 at 6:58 p.m.

    Rick, Bradley needs a hug and a plan from JK. His best position is an attacking/holding MF as he was with Roma; except he doesn't have the quality players around him as yet on this side of the Atlantic.I agree with Dan C. that Nagbe and Nguyen are far better skilled than what JK has been fielding.

  14. Wooden Ships replied, April 2, 2016 at 7:22 p.m.

    I w, not sur about a hug-haha. MB certainly had more skilled players around him at Roma, my view though is that he is more suited as a holding mid and passer up the field. What he can't do, to the extent needed, is dribble well in tight spaces and he also isn't a confident striker of the ball, IMO. He has had some really special goals, but its as if he was unexpectedly in the right place, right time and the ball was struck at the best spot. Which are all good things, he just seems more lucky than skilled on his goals.

  15. cisco martinez, April 3, 2016 at 11:31 p.m.

    The obvious move is to get rid of Klinsmann. I've never heard of a coach fail so many times and keep his job, the U-23 Olympics in his first four years didn't qualify, now his second stint doesn't qualify, not qualifying for confederation cups, losing in the semis in the Gold cup, when is he going to be held accountable? I can't imagine Bradley, Arena, Sampson, or when lothar osiander lost his job in the U-20 world cup for not playing Steve Snow against Italy, why not Hertog has not been demoted or lost his job is beyond me.

  16. Andrew Kear, April 4, 2016 at 3:39 p.m.

    Klinsmann is simply the worse USMNT in over a quarter century.

  17. trish k, April 5, 2016 at 8:38 p.m.

    Lots of good points made! It'll be interesting to see how the US does. If anyone is interested in some great COPA mech I would highly recommend this site, they have tons of great stuff to cheer on your team:

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