Takeaways from the USMNT’s 23-man Gold Cup roster

Written By Harrison Hamm on July 1, 2021

The Concacaf Gold Cup is scheduled to start in a little more than a week, and the USMNT revealed their 23-man roster for the tournament on Thursday. Unlike previous years, when teams had the option of replacing a select number of players after the group stage, this roster will be used for the whole tournament.

The US are in Group B with Canada, Martinique, and one of three final qualifiers that will be determined in a mini-tournament this week. The favorite to earn the fourth spot in Group B is Haiti.

Let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from Gregg Berhalter’s roster and what it might mean for the tournament.

USMNT sending more like a B-team than an A-team

We saw the US’s A-team in June for the Nations League, where they beat Mexico in the final. The US’s top players, including Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams, appeared in that camp and now head out for vacation and eventually preseason with their club teams. Their services will be preserved for the start of 2022 World Cup qualifying in September.

19 MLS players appear on this Gold Cup roster, nearly the entirety of which is made up of players that didn’t get called up in June. It’s not a full B-team, as there are a smattering of players who will compete for legitimate spots in a full-strength XI, but it is clearly a much weaker roster than we saw in June.

The four holdovers from the Nations League are Reggie Cannon, Jackson Yueill, Sebastian Lletget, and Kellyn Acosta. They will all presumably play prominent roles in the Gold Cup.

The battle for first-team spots

A few players on this roster will have a chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot in first-choice lineups for World Cup qualifying. One notable spot is in goal, where the New England Revolution’s Matt Turner appears likely to start. Zack Steffen’s occasional shakiness and injury issues could mean that Turner, who has been the best keeper in MLS for years now, has a case to make some more starts.

Center back is fairly wide open at the moment due to Aaron Long’s torn ACL. John Brooks has one spot locked down, but the Nations League did nothing to lock down his who his partner would be. Mark McKenzie struggled at times in that tournament. Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson, both of whom have excelled for Nashville SC and Atlanta United, will likely start together at the Gold Cup, and either could be a candidate to start next to Brooks.

Two other spots might be open for battle: central midfield and striker. The necessity of squad rotation and inevitability of injuries means that players like Acosta and Lletget are crucial as depth pieces. That was proven in the Nations League final, as Acosta put in a huge 120-minute effort in place of a banged-up Adams, who came off the bench. Berhalter also called in Eryk Williamson, the Portland Timbers’ defensive midfielder, and it’s likely that he will get some good minutes.

At forward, Berhalter surprisingly went four-deep: Daryl Dike, Gyasi Zardes, Nicholas Gioacchini, and Matthew Hoppe. Dike, fresh off an impressive loan spell at Barnsley from Orlando City SC, is a good candidate to start given how well-equipped he is for Concacaf-style play. The US doesn’t have a clear No. 9, and Dike’s ability to win aerial duels and put himself in goal-scoring areas will be attractive qualities.

Some other players to watch

It will be interesting to keep an eye on NYCFC’s James Sands at this tournament. Sands, 20, was called in as a center back, but he’s also played in defensive midfield, making him an apt fit for a back-three if Berhalter is in the mood for some tactical adjustments. The left backs, Sam Vines and George Bello, will have chances to establish themselves on the depth chart.

Berhalter, somewhat controversially, called in only two actual wingers, USMNT stalwart Paul Arriola and Colorado Rapids speedster Jonathan Lewis. That means Cristian Roldan will likely see some time on the flank. Roldan is a useful and versatile player who has been great for the Sounders this season, although he is not a particularly creative attacker.

The US should expect to win the tournament, even with a weakened roster. They play their first group game July 11.

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