The USMNT’s 40-man preliminary roster for the Gold Cup was, for the most part, expected. It is a healthy balance between outright starters, fringe contributors and experimental youth.
Gregg Berhalter will have his first quality opportunity to evaluate his players and their fit in his system. Nearly half of the preliminary roster won’t stick around for the Gold Cup itself, but every player has at least confirmed a spot on whatever massive whiteboard Berhalter has in his living room.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some players who have the most to prove this summer.
Darlington Nagbe, Atlanta United
Darlington Nagbe was not named to the January or March friendly rosters due to heavy workloads with Atlanta United, so this will be Berhalter’s first opportunity to see him in US colors. Having been a regular starter with both the 2017 Trinidad Disaster team (he went 84 minutes that October night) and the Dave Sarachan Dark Days team, Nagbe has yet to have a chance to impress in Berhalter’s system.
At 28, he could be a nice veteran squad option. He in theory fits Berhalter’s desire to play on the ball — his calling card is that he never loses possession, with clinical decision-making and clever movement in tricky areas.
His confidence seems to be growing in Atlanta, particularly this season. Nagbe has been more willing to push the ball forward and make late runs into the box. A certain conservativeness on the ball has been the constant knock on him, and he seems to be improving some of those elements.
Nagbe has doubled his xB% from ~6% last season to ~11% this season, per Cheuk Hei Ho of American Soccer Analysis, meaning he is more active in possession. He hasn’t influenced the attack a huge amount still — per Cheuk, his involvement in possession lowers the likelihood that Atlanta produce a quality chance, and his shot numbers are the lowest of his career — but for Nagbe, simply getting involved more is a form of aggression for him.
Reggie Cannon, FC Dallas
Reggie Cannon did not make the March roster, one of the more notable snubs from that camp. That, inherently, means he has a certain amount to prove.
Cannon doesn’t really fit the heavy possession role Berhalter wants his right back to play. With FC Dallas, he is an up-and-down type, a player who is more likely cover space linearly on the touchline instead of spending a significant amount of time inverted in possession. That is likely the primary reason that Berhalter has prioritized Nick Lima over Cannon in the early days of his USMNT tenure.
The system we’ve seen in the first few friendly games isn’t set in stone, though, and it shouldn’t be. Versatility is necessary based on the opponent and personnel. Perhaps there will come a time that Cannon’s skillset is advantageous.
Regardless of stylistic concerns, Cannon is 20, an everyday MLS starter, and a promising right back, a position that has historically lacked for the US. He will be around.
Tyler Boyd, MKE Ankaragucu
Fresh off a one-time switch from New Zealand, Tyler Boyd arrives at this Gold Cup camp with a chance to put himself on the US’s list of speedy, field-stretching wingers. Berhalter likes those, and he liked Boyd enough to leave Kenny Saeif off of this prelim roster.
Boyd has been producing in the Turkish league, with six goals and four assists in 14 games. He’s 24, so he’s not really young, but wingers who can score are valuable in perpetuity, and Berhalter’s system needs a player who can dribble in space and create chances for himself. Corey Baird, who has at times looked like the frontrunner for that job, doesn’t have effectiveness on the ball to score at Boyd’s rate.
It will be fascinating to see whether Boyd can steal a job out of this camp and potentially start a Gold Cup game. That seems like a big jump for a 24-year-old who has been largely unknown to the wider US Soccer stratosphere up until recently, but it seems like a definite possibility.