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USMNT faces Jamaica with Gold Cup roster spots and roles still in play

10:01 AM EDT 6/5/19
Gregg Berhalter USMNT 01092019
The U.S. national team will unveil its Gold Cup roster on Thursday, but not before one final audition for spots, and roles on Gregg Berhalter's team

Gregg Berhalter has a good idea what the U.S. national team's Gold Cup squad will look like when it is finalized on Wednesday night, but he will get one final look at some options in Wednesday's friendly against Jamaica at Audi Field in Washington D.C.

The match will give the USMNT one more opportunity to look at some fringe players, while also seeing which options Berhalter has to play in place of standouts Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams, who will be joining the U.S. team in the days after Wednesday's friendly.

"I think most of the roster is set," Berhalter said on Tuesday. "I think there will be a few positions that that are up for grabs, but not many. And a lot of the work has been done beforehand. But we will make a few decisions based on on tomorrow's game."

Also weighing into Berhalter's decisions will be the health status of several players dealing with injuries. Aaron Long, Jordan Morris and Sebastian Lletget have all had injuries recently, and Berhalter will need to assess whether to include them or consider other options. Of the three, Long is the biggest potential loss considering he had looked to be a leading candidate to start in central defense. He has been sidelined for three weeks with a hamstring injury, but with almost two weeks remaining before the Gold Cup opener against Guyana, Berhalter could include Long and hope he can recover fully for the bulk of the Gold Cup.

There are 28 players on the USMNT roster heading into the Jamaica match, meaning seven players will be trimmed when the final Gold Cup roster is chosen after Wednesday's match (with Pulisic and Adams locks to be on the roster). Many of the seven will be cut from the deep pool of central defenders, wingers and central midfielders.

Central defense will be an area of focus on Wednesday, with fringe options such as Cameron Carter-Vickers and Miles Robinson potentially having a chance to show Berhalter they're worthy of a roster spot. At present, Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez look like good bets to be on the squad, with Tim Ream looking likely to play in central defense at the Gold Cup to help offset the absence of injured starter John Brooks.

With Pulisic not due to join the team until after the Jamaica friendly, and Adams not joining the team until after Sunday's friendly against Venezuela in Cincinnati, Berhalter will have the opportunity to look at some other options in the attacking midfield role normally occupied by Pulisic, as well as the right-back position Adams is expected to fill at the Gold Cup.

"I think the good thing about it is you know you get to see other options and that's important," Berhalter said. "You know we know in a tournament format the games come very quick [one] after another and we know there's a lot of travel associated with it. So we know we need other guys to step up and this gives the other guys an opportunity to get fit, to be involved in our system and to play."

A pairing of Weston McKennie and Cristian Roldan is a good possibility in the dual 10 roles in Berhalter's 4-3-3 system, though USMNT newcomer Duane Holmes is a player who could also merit a look, along with young Chicago Fire playmaker Djordje Mihailovic. Nick Lima is the only natural right back on the current squad, which either means Lima will be a lock to start, or Berhalter will experiment with a three-man defense to give his pool of central defenders more of a look.

The match will be an opportunity for national team debuts for both Holmes and New Zealand-born Tyler Boyd, who recently had his one-time change of association approved by FIFA to clear him to play for the USMNT. 

"He's one of those like Weston McKennie type of players where you can put him anywhere on the field and he can hold his own," Berhalter said of Holmes, who is coming off an impressive season with Championship side Derby County.

Another player who could see his first action under Berhalter is winger Joe Gyau, who is back with the USMNT for the first time in more than four years. He suffered a major knee injury in his last national team appearance in 2014, and is coming off a difficult season with German second-division side MSV Duisburg.

"We watched him in Germany in the second half of the year and you know we're looking for wingers that have dynamics, that have a good change of pace, that have very good acceleration, good speed, good 1-v-1," Berhalter said. "He has some of those qualities. So it will be nice to see how those translate into international soccer. But he showed it this week for sure in training."

Some positions are still up for grabs heading into the Gold Cup, including left back, where Daniel Lovitz and Antonee Robinson are competing. Ream could still wind up the top option there if Berhalter feels comfortable with his options in central defense, but if Ream winds up deployed as a center back, it will leave Lovitz and Robinson vying for the role.

Tactically, the USMNT should deploy Berhalter's preferred 4-3-3 against Jamaica, with Wil Trapp likely to play in the defensive midfield role due to Michael Bradley working his way back from a recent minor hamstring injury.

Another formation possibility is the 5-4-1 setup Berhalter deployed in the second half against Chile in March. That setup would allow him to have a look at three central defenders, while also looking at some potential options for wingback roles.