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Concacaf Gold Cup: Projecting the USMNT’s 23-man squad

Mar 21, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; United States forward Christian Pulisic (10) defends against the Ecuador during second half of an international friendly soccer match at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
Mar 21, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; United States forward Christian Pulisic (10) defends against the Ecuador during second half of an international friendly soccer match at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

United States men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter took the first step to naming his squad for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup by naming 40 players to his preliminary roster Monday.

Now the task for Berhalter is to trim the number of players down to 23 before the first week of June, when rosters are due to Concacaf ahead of the tournament. 

We will likely hear the USMNT’s final squad in the next 10 days since it has its first pre-Gold Cup friendly June 5 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., against Jamaica. 

A handful of players are guaranteed to lock up spots on the 23-man roster, but there are plenty of spaces still up for grabs. 

Berhalter could lean toward adding experienced players as depth, or he could continue to give young players the chance to prove their worth on a bigger stage. 

Below is a look at who Berhalter should call into the Gold Cup squad. 

Goalkeepers (3) 

Zack Steffen, Ethan Horvath, Brad Guzan 

Mar 10, 2018; Columbus, OH; Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen (23) watches a ball in the second half against the Montreal Impact at MAPFRE Stadium. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the easiest decisions for Berhalter will be choosing Zack Steffen as his No. 1 goalkeeper. 

Steffen, who is headed to Manchester City after the Gold Cup, has established himself as the top shot-stopper in the talent pool, leaving everyone else to play for the right to be his backup. 

Ethan Horvath has been a consistent member of the squad and he received a consistent run of games at Club Brugge in the second half of the Belgian season. 

The third goalkeeper spot could go to Brad Guzan, Tyler Miller or Sean Johnson.

Guzan gets the edge here because of experience, which will be valuable for a young squad in the continental competition.

Bill Hamid’s play at D.C. United could have warranted a spot on the preliminary roster, but he was not selected by Berhalter.

Defenders (8) 

Tyler Adams, Reggie Cannon, Antonee Robinson, Greg Garza, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Matt Miazga

Sep 7, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ; U.S. midfielder Tyler Adams plays the ball against Brazil midfielder Willian during an international friendly match at MetLife Stadium. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Injuries hit the USMNT defense hard with John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin not included in the preliminary squad. 

With two of the team’s best defenders out of the Gold Cup, the opportunity is there for some players to make an impact on Berhalter. 

Tyler Adams is the only guaranteed starter of the defenders named by Berhalter. The RB Leipzig player needs as many minutes as possible to adjust to his new right back role with the USMNT, and he will be given every opportunity to do so. 

The center back pool is dependent on the health of Aaron Long, who is working his way back from a hamstring injury. 

If Long is healthy, he will be one of the starters for the Gold Cup opener against Guyana. 

After that, Berhalter is going to have to patch together his defensive unit. Antonee Robinson appears to be a shoo-in at left back after a successful loan spell at Wigan Athletic, while Reggie Cannon and Greg Garza will provide depth at fullback.

Cameron Carter-Vickers has an opportunity to prove his worth on the international stage in Brooks’ absence. He brings a physical presence to the field and could complement Long well in the middle of defense. 

The other two center back spots should come down a decision between Matt Miazga, Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson.

If Berhalter chooses to bring three full backs to the Gold Cup, or a ninth defender, all three could make the team.

Robinson is deserving of the call-up, but it might be better for him to stay with Atlanta United and develop more since Miazga and Zimmerman carry more international experience. 

Midfielders (7) 

Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lletget, Wil Trapp, Cristian Roldan, Djordje Mihailovic

Weston McKennie

May 28, 2018; Chester, PA; United States midfielder Weston McKennie in action against Bolivia during an international friendly match at Talen Energy Stadium. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie should start most of the USMNT’s Gold Cup games. 

Michael Bradley could be placed in that category as well, depending on how much Berhalter wants to utilize the Toronto FC midfielder. 

The key for Berhalter when choosing his Gold Cup midfielders is to find the perfect balance of centralized players and wingers. 

Pulisic could play out on the wing, but you would much rather have him line up in the center and work off McKennie and Bradley. 

Of the true wingers in the preliminary squad, Sebastian Lletget is the best option to throw into the starting XI. 

Cristian Roldan’s flexibility in all parts of midfield is a valuable asset that should land him a spot on the 23-man squad, while Wil Trapp has been a constant figure in the USMNT setup in the last year and will serve as a true backup to Bradley. 

Djordje Mihailovic could be the surprise inclusion in midfield after he had a solid showing at USMNT January camp. The Chicago Fire midfielder brings a dose of creativity that could be valuable in the late stages of games.

If Berhalter leans on more experienced players, the seventh midfield spot will belong to Darlington Nagbe. 

Forwards (5) 

Jozy Altidore, Gyasi Zardes, Josh Sargent, Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris 

Aug 15, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) celebrates a goal during the first half against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BMO Field. (Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports)

Jozy Altidore is still the top forward on the USMNT depth chart.

Altidore is one of the few holdovers from the World Cup qualification failure that still carries value in the Berhalter era. 

If he stays healthy, Altidore could benefit from the creativity and technical ability of the top USMNT midfielders.

Gyasi Zardes is a solid No. 2 option to Altidore, but there are more concerns about his scoring prowess on the international stage, which is why he might get surpassed in playing time by Josh Sargent. 

If Sargent wasn’t expected to play at the Gold Cup, he would be on the U-20 World Cup roster. Sargent could end up as the first striker off the bench for Berhalter if he performs well in training. 

Paul Arriola is listed as a forward, but he can play anywhere in the attacking third. In any international competition, you need one or two Swiss Army Knife-type players, and Arriola is one of them. 

The final forward spot comes down to the health of Jordan Morris, who is dealing with a hamstring injury. If Morris is deemed fit by the Seattle Sounders before the Gold Cup, he should be on the roster. 

If not, Berhalter could turn to one of the three other MLS-based strikers who have been in camp with him, or he could give an opportunity to Jonathan Amon, Joe Gyau or Tyler Boyd, who just had his one-time FIFA switch from New Zealand to the United States approved over the weekend. 

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