By Ridge Mahoney
The aftermath of a fourth-place showing in the Copa America Centenario is a mixed bag for the
U.S. national team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann
Three group matches and three knockout games didn’t transform midfielder Darlington Nagbe
lock-down starter, but they certainly confirmed the credentials of defender John Brooks
and forward Bobby Wood
, and also dealt out some rebuttal to those observers critical of Clint
Glimpses of Christian Pulisic
were enticing as well as cautionary. Fans on this side of the Atlantic can only hope that the coaches and staff of Borussia Dortmund make
the right use of club resources to continue his development. That he will be on the plane to Russia for the 2018 World Cup -- if the USA qualifies -- seems extremely likely but wide-open is the
question of how much experience he will take with him. Jermaine Jones
can make no valid excuse for receiving his first red card while playing for the USA and the same can be said
for the cautions that ruled out Alejandro Bedoya
and Wood for the quarterfinal against Argentina. Yet Jones’ mix of ferocity and experience is still invaluable and by not using Perry
, who played only in a warm-up game against Puerto Rico, in the tournament Klinsmann delayed the process of grooming a replacement for Kyle Beckerman
the issue of what to do with Michael Bradley
, who is being evaluated by Toronto FC team doctors
for a knee injury.
While his absence for the September qualifiers would not be a major issue, the onset of Hexagonal matches in November greatly alters personnel decisions.
Klinsmann is not bound to a
23-man squad for the two September qualifiers. He can add and discard players between games and probably will if the Americans clinch Sept. 2 by doing better against St. Vincent & The Grenadines
than Guatemala does at Trinidad & Tobago. A match against T&T Sept. 6 in Jacksonville concludes the semifinal round.
European-based players will just a few weeks into their league
seasons, and Klinsmann will evaluate their club situations and fitness levels. As rosters change during the transfer windows so too will the status of several players.
Since 23 is a good
working number, here’s a projected list of players for the games in September: GOALKEEPERS. Brad Guzan
Villa/ENG), Tim Howard
(Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando
(Real Salt Lake).
Guzan was anointed the starter for the Centenario and played well but Howard’s return to MLS
could shift the dynamic if Guzan doesn’t change clubs and struggles with Aston Villa in the League Championship. Ethan Horvath
is the man for the future yet the timing of
these games probably means the No. 3 keeper will be a domestic option who can play for his club if the top two are healthy. Bill Hamid
could get called for the second game after he
plays for D.C. United against New York City FC Sept. 1. (Rimando's Real Salt Lake plays on Sept. 7.) DEFENDERS. Matt
(Sporting KC), Steve Birnbaum
(D.C. United), John Brooks
(Hertha Berlin/GER), Tim Chandler
(Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Geoff Cameron
(Stoke City/ENG), Fabian
(Borussia M’Gladbach/GER), Omar Gonzalez
(Pachuca/MEX), DeAndre Yedlin
Brooks and Cameron are the preferred central pairing with Besler
the obvious third choice, but Klinsmann needs to decide going forward if he keeps Gonzalez in the mix or opts instead for Matt Miazga
of Chelsea, and who to groom as Yedlin’s back up.
Birnbaum can play on the outside, but Klinsmann needs another alternative to Johnson at left back. Tim Chandler
was in the original 23 for the Centenario. Miazga is still adjusting to
life at Chelsea but if he gets playing time will deserve consideration for the Hexagonal. Edgar Castillo
, who replaced an injured Chandler on the Centenario squad of 23, and
Kitchen were the only field players not to appear in the Centenario. Klinsmann chose to play Michael Orozco
(suspended for the SVG game) rather than Castillo at left back in the third-place
game, and Chandler’s ability to play on both corners gives him an edge. MIDFIELDERS. Kyle Beckerman
Lake), Alejandro Bedoya
(Nantes/FRA), Michael Bradley
(Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones
(Colorado), Darlington Nagbe
(Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic
(Borussia Dortmund/GER), Gyasi Zardes
(LA Galaxy), Graham Zusi
Beyond the obvious choices, Brad Evans
can also play in the back and
Klinsmann admires his spirit, plus the Sounders do not play a league game from Aug. 28 to Sept. 10.
The other wild card at this position is Mix Diskerud
, who’s not
established his place at NYCFC and has been the subject of transfer rumors this week. Nagbe’s performances with the Timbers have moved him ahead of Diskerud in the pecking order, yet with
Hexagonal games starting in a few months he’s far from assured of getting a start in a competitive match.
Pulisic’s status at Dortmund will be closely monitored by the U.S.
Soccer staff. He played many games last season for the club’s U-19 team that won its championship and it’s not likely he’ll get a lot of time for the first team, though he scored two
goals in nine appearances.
Yet if he stands up well to the travel and fatigue required for European-based players he’s a probable callup. Much hinges on what Klinsmann elects to do
with Zardes, whose speed and robust workrate are offset by clumsy touches and poor decisions.
By rejecting an offer to stay at Fulham and sign instead with Premier League club
Bournemouth, Emerson Hyndman
has made a crucial decision of which Klinsmann approves. A good start at Bournemouth will move him into contention for competitive matches. Like Kitchen, he played
against Puerto Rico. FORWARDS. Jozy Altidore
(Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey
(Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris
(Seattle Sounders), Bobby Wood
The September qualifiers present Klinsmann with an excellent opportunity to bring Morris back into the fold and perhaps use Dempsey
only in the first game.
Wood faces a tough jump up to the Bundesliga level and Altidore has to shake off yet another injury setback, but in a perfect world both are playing well and
battling for playing time.
Wood did enough during the Centenario to at least equal if not supersede Altidore as a starter. Wood brings mobility and bite to the front line, Altidore is the
bigger, more experienced choice.
Morris and Zardes tend to slash through the channels from slightly wider positions. Most of the U.S. players struggled in the 4-0 loss to Argentina but it
was an especially rough outing for Chris Wondolowski
, who was subbed at halftime.