Predicting the USMNT 23-Man World Cup Roster Now That Tryouts Are Over

Let’s face it, the Gold Cup was pretty fun to watch and all considering baseball and the NBA summer league are the only other things on TV to watch in the way of sports, but for the USMNT this tournament was nothing more than a glorified tryout. Literally the way Bruce Arena ran the team throughout this tournament is the exact same way every tryout I’ve ever had has went. The first phase of every coach at tryouts is picking out the few players that might fit into your current team. Said coach doesn’t really care all that much about the players on the existing roster. He knows they can play. He’d rather focus on the new guys, the bubble guys, who can potentially join this existing roster. And that’s exactly what Bruce Arena did. He selected a roster of B team players and said show me you got. Sure, he wanted to win, but I can guarantee his main priority was to assess these B team players like it were a tryout, to see who stood out and could play with the A team.

Then comes phase two of tryouts. Said coach starts to mix in his new players with his current team. At this point he’s identified a select few new guys and wants to see how they fit in with the more skilled players that already have their spot solidified on the team. Cue the additions of Altidore, Nagbe, Bradley, Dempsey, and Howard. Again, Arena had winning in mind, but these additions were much more than simply wanting to win.

Lastly, phase three: squad selection. Realistically, the Gold Cup has a more direct impact on the crucial qualifying games coming up than it does on next summer’s World Cup, but I think many players were able to solidify their spot in the squad for both. So without further adieu, here are my picks on what I really want the final 23-man World Cup roster to be, what the final 23-man World Cup roster probably should be, and what the final 23-man World Cup roster definitely won’t be.

Goalkeepers

Tim Howard
He’ll be 39 years old come next June, but quite frankly that means nothing. Age is just a number for many goalkeepers and Tim Howard is no exception. The only thing keeping Howard from making the WC roster is if he suddenly chooses to hang up the boots for good, which would be the biggest bitch move and bone ball in the history of the USMNT.

Brad Guzan
Why would Tim Howard’s retirement be a massive bone ball to the U.S.? Because that means Brad Guzan is next in line. And between his performances last summer at the Copa America and his performances in his most recent stint as starting goalkeeper for the U.S. , I’ve seen absolutely nothing that makes me believe this guy can replicate Tim Howard in any way. Remember the Belgium game last WC? Undoubtedly a 5-1 Belgium win if Brad Guzan is in net. Still, he has more experience than anyone not named Tim Howard, and therefore might be the most trustworthy in high pressure situations like the WC. Emphasis on the might.

Ethan Horvath
This one is TOUGH. I think Bruce Arena is going to lose some sleep over this decision, although whoever he chooses most likely will not see the field. Ultimately, I believe it will be Ethan Horvath. He’s currently the USMNT most promising young goalkeeper, playing at a pretty high level in Europe with Club Brugge. Although his one and only cap (a clean sheet against Cuba) came in the Klinsmann Era, he was able snag a spot in last summer’s Copa America roster and has made an impression on Bruce Arena at recent camps. I’m assuming the only reason he wasn’t included in the Gold Cup roster was due to club commitment with Brugge, but feel free to fact check me on that.

On the Bubble: Nick Rimando, Zack Steffen, Sean Johnson, Jesse Gonzalez

Defenders

Deandre Yedlin
Really hoping to see a breakout season from Yedlin this year, which we haven’t quite seen yet. Either way, Yedlin has the starting RB position pretty locked up, but I think his quality of play at the WC is completely dependent how much confidence he has come next summer. I wish the U.S. had the center back strength to play a 3-5-2 with wing-backs, because he would thrive. We know he can get forward and create opportunities from the flank, but his defensive ability is still in question.

Timmy Chandler
You won’t find a bigger anti-Timmy Chandler guy out there than me. The frustrating thing is that he actually does contribute a little bit for Frankfurt. Multiple times last season I stumbled across a video of Chandler doing something somewhat impressive. Yet, every time I watch him play for the U.S. I find myself constantly complaining about his play. Unfortunately, the USMNT is certainly not known for its depth at the full back positions, hence the reason for Timmy Chandler’s inclusion. So yes, let out a sigh of relief U.S. soccer fans, I do believe this means the Graham Zusi RB experiment is officially over.

John Brooks
A no-brainer and I’m not going to waste yours and my valuable time explaining this pick much further. John Brooks, “u r da captain now”.

Geoff Cameron
My position on Geoff Cameron can vary on any given day. He’s consistently inconsistent. There’s games where he’s capable of losing you the game (vs. Portugal, World Cup 2014, and there’s games where he’s capable of winning you the game (vs. Mexico, World Cup qualifier 2017). All in all, his inspiring performance in their most recent qualifying game against Mexico was enough to convince me that he will probably be the man alongside John Brooks come Russia.

Omar Gonzalez
Barring any injuries, Gonzalez has a lot of experience, performed well at the Gold Cup, and is a threat on set pieces, so I think he’s a pretty safe bet to make the final roster. There’s nothing flashy about his game, but in the event of an injury or suspension to Brooks or Cameron, I trust that Gonzalez can fill in, and I assume Bruce Arena does too.

Matt Miazga
As with the goalkeepers, this is another super tough pick as there are several players who can challenge for this last center back spot. I’m a strong advocate of mixing in the young with the old. Even if they don’t log a single minute, allowing young players like Miazga to experience a World Cup atmosphere is crucial in my opinion. It takes a little bit of pressure off for the next World Cup, having that feeling of being there before. Ultimately, Miazga’s inclusion or non-inclusion will probably come down to the kind of year he has with Vitesse in the Dutch league.

Jorge Villafana
Ah, the dreaded left back position. Without a doubt the weakest area of the USMNT. So weak Klinsmann had to transform Demarcus Beasley into a LB because what else was there to do? I suppose Jorge Villafana has shown some signs of quality in recent performances. I’ve seen a lot of people take to Twitter and express their satisfaction with him as the left back moving forward. I’m not totally sure what these people are looking at. Can get forward decently well, but an absolute liability defensively. Good luck going up against right wingers by the names of Gareth Bale, Robben, Willian, Cuadrado, Bernardo Silva. Oh and there’s also that Messi guy. May God have mercy on your soul, Jorge.

Justin Morrow
In the event that Bruce Arena wants to save Villafana some embarrassment, he can use Justin Morrow instead. It really won’t matter who Arena goes with, the U.S. better start preparing for playing with 3 and a half in the back.

On the Bubble: Graham Zusi, Eric Lichaj, Michael Orozco, Matt Hedges, Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Steve Birnbaum, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Greg Garza, Edgar Castillo

Midfielders    

Michael Bradley
He’s received his fair share of criticism since his poor showing in the 2014 World Cup, but it’s time for him, and everyone else, to leave that in the past. He’s the anchor of the midfield and there’s nobody that can be that guy better than he can. I’ve seen world class plays out of him (just ask Guillermo Ochoa), it’s just a matter of finding that consistency.

Kellyn Acosta
He’s young, he’s quality, and he’s earned a spot on the roster. I expect their opening game starting XI to include him as the holding mid, but his starting spot is by no means safe. Not only are there other players that can push for that spot, but if Arena chooses not to go with a 4-3-3 of some sort at all, I’m not sure there’s room for Acosta in the line-up.

Dax McCarty
Delete: Jermaine Jones. Insert: Dax McCarty. That’s not to say Dax McCarty is the next Jermaine Jones or that he replicates Jones’ style of play, but he’s younger, more agile, and more fit. He’s a player that can breathe down Acosta’s neck and push him to be better as he challenges for a position alongside Bradley in the starting XI.

Alejandro Bedoya
If you’re a fan of players that make little to no game-changing impact on a game, Alejandro Bedoya is your guy. I’m pretty anti-Bedoya myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s a place for him in the squad. Like I said, he doesn’t contribute very much when he plays, but sometimes that what a team needs. A role player who doesn’t do anything fancy and doesn’t take risks, just does what’s asked of him. Bedoya is a solid player to bring off the bench late in a tight 2-0 or  1-0 type game, but nothing more. He works hard and can help close out the game. As long as Bruce Arena keeps him on the bench for 95% of the World Cup, I do think Bedoya can serve as a fairly useful inclusion.

Darlington Nagbe
Personally, my pick for the X-factor of the U.S. roster next summer. With the exception of Fabian Johnson, the team seriously lacks depth out wide. He’s no prolific goal-scorer, but his versatility and ability to drift inside and get into open spaces makes him the best choice to fill in a weak right midfield position. His style of play compliments Pulisic’s very well, as their movement off the ball together can cause confusion for opponents. Teams will literally be shaping their game plan around ways to shut down Pulisic, which will give Nagbe a lot of freedom.

Fabian Johnson
Again, there’s not much competition internally as far as the wide positions go, and Fabian Johnson deservedly has one locked up on the left side. Fast, strong left foot, and competes at one of the highest levels in the Bundesliga. He’s also the USA’s most reliable left back as well, and can play there if needs be.

Kenny Saief
Surprise! We know next to nothing about the newest American who recently was granted a change of association from Israel to the United States. Although I keep saying that there isn’t much depth for the USMNT in the wide positions, there will still be a lot of competition for who gets this spot. We were supposed to see Saief play in the Gold Cup, but his tournament ended before it ever began due to injury. If you haven’t seen any highlights on this guy, go check out some of his videos on Youtube. At only 23 years old, the kid can clearly play. And he’s currently playing in a solid league in Belgium for a good team in Club Brugge. Expect to start hearing the name a lot more between now and Russia 2018.

Christian Pulisic
Saved the best for last. No lengthy explanation necessary. Not sure who in their right mind would disagree with me on this. Your only valid excuse is if you’re Helen Keller or something and you literally have no clue what’s going on. But I think even she could figure it out through Braille or some shit. As long as you have functioning eyes and/or ears, you know what’s up.

On the bubble: Sebastian Lletget, Cristian Roldan, Danny Williams, Gyasi Zardes, Kelyn Rowe, Paul Arriola, Joe Corona, Eric Hyndman, Sasha Kljestan, Jermaine Jones

Forwards

Jozy Altidore
It all comes down to what kind of form Jozy is in come next summer. When he’s scoring and playing with confidence at the club level, it shows on the international level. He can go on 5 game goal streaks, and he can completely disappear for 5 games. We don’t really know which Altidore will show up, but fingers crossed it isn’t pull a hammy within 15 minutes of the World Cup Altidore again.

Bobby Wood
The great thing about next World Cup’s roster is that it will include Bobby Wood, so that if out of form Jozy or pull a hammy Jozy does decide to show up, there’s no real need to panic. The emergence of Bobby Wood has been a blessing and I fully expect this to be another decision that Bruce Arena loses sleep over. There will low-key yet high-key very much be a competition going on between Altidore and Wood leading up to the World Cup. In a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system, only one can start. I suppose Bobby Wood technically could shift out wide but I find him to be much more effective up top. I also think a two striker formation utilizing both guys can also be extremely efficient, but I’ll touch on this later.

Clint Dempsey
The USMNT may be weak and lack depth in some areas, but attacking is most definitely not one of them. How Arena will choose to use Dempsey will be interesting. By the time the World Cup roles around, there is a 99.9% chance Dempsey will sit alone as USMNT’s all-time leading goal scorer. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it is simply not possible for the U.S. to start Altidore, Wood, and Dempsey together. Two out of three maximum. Dempsey fits best in a two-striker system, playing off the number 9. He obviously still has the quality to start, despite his age, but come 2018 I think we will begin to see him utilized off the bench more often. That’s a pretty scary thought for other teams.

Jordan Morris
If you search the term “super-sub” in Google, the search results very well might come up with a picture of Jordan Morris. This is the role I envision, and the role I believe Bruce Arena envisions, for Jordan Morris. He’s the perfect spark plug to bring off the bench when you need a goal in the late stages of a game, or to put high pressure on the opposing team’s defense when up a goal. Pretty sure Morris had this spot locked up before his Gold Cup winner, but in my opinion, that was a definite clincher.

On the Bubble: Dom Dwyer, Juan Agudelo, Aron Johansson

Possible Formations

4-2-3-1 (and how I expect them to line up for the opening game):

Screenshot (34)

Potential Adjustments: Johnson to LB, Saief to LM; Johnson to LB, Nagbe to LM, Pulisic to RM, Dempsey to CAM; Wood for Altidore; McCarty for Acosta

4-1-2-1-2

Screenshot (36)

Potential Adjustments: McCarty for Acosta; Bedoya for Nagbe; Dempsey for Wood/Altidore.

4-1-4-1

Screenshot (38)

Potential Adjustments: Johnson to LB, Saief to LM; Wood for Altidore.

4-4-2

Screenshot (37)

Potential Adjustments: Johnson to LB, Nagbe to LM; McCarty for Acosta; Dempsey for Wood/Altidore.

5-3-2

Screenshot (40)

Potential Adjustments: McCarty for Acosta;  Dempsey for Wood/Altidore.

Comments, thoughts, concerns?

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