The groups have been established for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, and now the U.S. national team knows the road it has to travel to lift its first trophy since 2017, and earn some redemption after what has been a forgettable past two years .
Gregg Berhalter still has a month to go before the United States takes the field against Guyana, and before he must finalize the 23-man squad he will settle on to chase the USMNT's seventh Gold Cup title. Given the detailed system he is implementing, Berhalter is very likely to build a squad consisting mostly of players he has already seen in one or both of the training camps he has held and put through four friendlies in 2019.
Fans hoping for a serious youth movement may wind up being a bit disappointed because the U.S. Gold Cup squad won't be anywhere near as young as the U.S. teams we saw play in 2018, before Berhalter took charge. He will have to decide whether it's prudent to call in young players who are eligible to play at the Under-20 World Cup if he doesn't see them being a key part of the Gold Cup squad.
The U.S. Gold Cup team should strike a good balance between youth and experience, and the return of some long-time national team fixtures, such as Jozy Altidore, who is the top striker option in the pool and was in top form before being sidelined by a hamstring injury three weeks ago. Both Altidore and Michael Bradley should not only make the U.S. team, but both are good bets to start.
A U.S. Gold Cup team featuring Altidore and Bradley, but missing the likes of Josh Sargent and Tim Weah, would surely leave some U.S. fans unhappy, but Berhalter has already made it clear his team will continue to have a strong veteran element, and young players won't be rushed.
Injuries will play a factor in how the U.S. roster shakes out, with several players carrying knocks as the tournament draws closer. Altidore, Tyler Adams, John Brooks and Aaron Long all head into final month before the tournament either recovering from or recently having suffered injuries. So far only DeAndre Yedlin appears to be ruled out for the Gold Cup, with the aforementioned players all still looking like starters when the competition kicks off.
Who will make up the U.S. Gold Cup squad? Here are the 23 players who could be called on:
Pack your bags
Goalkeepers: Zack Steffen
Currently the clear-cut starter in goal, Steffen should have a chance to showcase his skills at the Gold Cup before making the move to Manchester City. As much as Berhalter might say it's still an open competition for the starting role, Steffen is the pick if he's healthy.
Defenders: John Brooks, Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, Tim Ream
The top three central defenders are locked in now, with Brooks and Long looking like the first-choice pairing. Unfortunately for Berhalter, Wolfsburg announced on Thursday that Brooks would miss the final two matches of the Bundesliga season with a knee injury, while Long suffered a hamstring injury on Wednesday night. That will make for a nervous next few weeks, and could also mean some opportunities for other central defenders in the pool.
Ream is the clear-cut top left back so he's in despite Fulham's miserable season, and his versatility could lead to him playing in central defense if Brooks and Long wind up missing the tournament.
Midfielders: Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Michael Bradley, Paul Arriola, Wil Trapp, Cristian Roldan
There aren't very many open slots in midfield still up for grabs if we are being honest. The Pulisic-Adams-McKennie trio should all be key starters at the Gold Cup, as should Bradley. Arriola is the top-rated winger in the pool at the moment, at least until some younger options mature, and Roldan's versatility makes him a solid option.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Gyasi Zardes
Though he hasn't played for the USMNT since 2017, Altidore should be the lead striker if he's healthy for the Gold Cup. As much as some fans may want to move on from Altidore and Bradley, the tandem is still the best the pool has to offer. Altidore has done very well in past Gold Cups and brings invaluable experience to the table. Zardes is the back-up at striker, but he's also capable of playing in a wide role if needed.
Pushing to get in
Goalkeepers: Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson, Jesse Gonzalez, Bill Hamid, Brad Guzan
Horvath and Johnson are currently holding down the other two goalkeeper spots on the Gold Cup squad, and it's going to be tough for the other goalkeepers to close the gap. That said, if either come up injured, then the competition for the final goalkeeper spot will be interesting. Hamid and Guzan aren't necessarily seen as good fits for Berhalter's system, which could give Gonzalez the edge.
Defenders: Walker Zimmerman, Ventura Alvarado, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Nick Lima, Reggie Cannon, Daniel Lovitz, Antonee Robinson
Zimmerman played well in the January USMNT camp and has been playing well for LAFC. That should be enough to hold off Carter-Vickers for the fourth center back slot.
Alvarado has to be considered one of the better left-footed center backs in the player pool, and his solid form with Necaxa makes him someone Berhalter needs to consider, especially if Brooks winds up missing the tournament. He played in the 2015 Gold Cup, but hasn't been a part of the USMNT setup since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired.
Lima has done well to push himself back into the conversation for a Gold Cup spot after reclaiming a place in San Jose's starting lineup. He's playing left back rather than right back, but has done well and should benefit from Yedlin's absence. Cannon is Lima's main competition for a place on the roster, but Lima has the edge for now.
Robinson returned from injury and finished out his season at Wigan in strong fashion. Though he hasn't been in a Berhalter camp yet, he's young and dynamic and has USMNT games under his belt. Is that enough to give him the edge over Daniel Lovitz, who has the advantage of having been in both of Berhalter's USMNT camps this year? Lovitz has been playing very well for the Montreal Impact, and should hold off Robinson for the spot. Something else to consider is Berhalter could choose to bring both Lovitz and Robinson if he decides to use Ream as a central defender, which is entirely possible if Brooks and/or Long are sidelined.
Midfielders: Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Joe Corona, Marky Delgado
A healthy Lletget should be on the Gold Cup team, with his versatility giving him an edge over the rest, but staying healthy has long been an issue for him. Baird didn't show enough in the March friendlies to be considered a strong option.
Nagbe is in a good run of form with Atlanta United, showing all the qualities that would make him an ideal midfield option for Berhalter. Can he break into a crowded midfield that's pretty set in the middle? His versatility could give him the edge, and he would make sense as an option if Lletget isn't available.
Corona has been outstanding for the LA Galaxy since transferring in from Club Tijuana, and should now be considered a viable candidate, not just for his form, but also his Gold Cup experience.
Forwards: Christian Ramirez, Jordan Morris, Josh Sargent, Andrew Wooten
Tim Weah was in this conversation before being chosen for the Under-20 World Cup, but Sargent's exclusion from the Under-20 World Cup squad suggests he's a good bet to be a part of the Gold Cup. That isn't a big surprise given his potential, but his lack of minutes at Werder Bremen had put his status in a bit of doubt.
Ramirez has done well to become a consistent starter for LAFC, even if his finishing hasn't been the sharpest in recent weeks. He did enough in his recent national team appearances to merit a closer look.
Though Morris didn't exactly impress in the March friendlies, he should make the team if he can continue to play well for the Sounders. He's capable of playing as a forward or winger, and has Gold Cup experience, having scored the tournament winner in 2017.
Wooten has to be considered a possibility given his outstanding form for 2.Bundesliga side Sandhausen. Currently tied for the third-most goals in his league, Wooten has done enough to draw a closer look from Berhalter.
Outside looking in
There are plenty of players on the national team fringes that you wonder about as options for Berhalter, though many feel like real long shots at the moment.
Omar Gonzalez is another Liga MX-based longshot, even with his history with Berhalter. Tim Parker was generating plenty of national team interest a year ago, but his passing skill set isn't what Berhalter prefers, making him an extreme long shot.
In midfield, English-American winger Duane Holmes is an interesting option. He's starting regularly for Derby County, but hasn't been part of a USMNT camp yet, though a recent injury might keep him out. Romain Gall is seeing regular time for Swedish club Malmo, and is familiar with Berhalter's system, but he seems like a long shot. Julian Green and Lynden Gooch are other USMNT veterans who are seeing regular playing time in European second divisions, but both seem unlikely to close the gap. Jonathan Amon is another young winger who was once considered a Gold Cup possibility. He has recently returned from injury and is earning first-team minutes so he's a possibility, assuming he isn't included in the U.S. Under-20 World Cup squad.
The competition for places in central midfield is fierce, and right now MLS-based players like Kellyn Acosta and Russell Canouse look like long shots, as does Kenny Saief. German-based midfielder Alfredo Morales is another player who has struggled to merit a look.
At forward, Jeremy Ebobisse is a player who has played well enough over the past month to be in the conversation. Bobby Wood has been sidelined by injury, a fitting end to a nightmare season at Hannover 96. Jonathan Amon is a winger who could be an option for Berhalter after being left off the Under-20 World Cup squad. His speed could make him a good change-of-pace option.
Full projected USMNT Gold Cup roster
Defenders: John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Matt Miazga (Reading FC), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Tim Ream (Fulham), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Walker Zimmerman (Los Angeles FC), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes)
Midfielders: Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie (Schalke 04), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew), Christian Ramirez (Los Angeles FC), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)