The United States finished atop Group B on goal differential. That was their objective and they succeeded at it, so you could say job well done, right? Not exactly. The United States looked very vulnerable and shaky against Panama and Martinique. Whether this is a B-team or not, US fans shouldn’t have to be on the edge of their seat, hoping they beat a country smaller than Rhode Island. However, if it’s smooth sailing to the finals, then no one remember. Some young players did make their case to be called in again (more on that later). While others lost out on that same opportunity.
Being allowed six changes for the next stage of the tournament, Bruce Arena opted to bring in veterans for the knockout stage. Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore, and Jesse Gonzalez all are being brought in. Arena elected to send home Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Kelyn Rowe, Christian Roldan, Dom Dwyer, and Alejandro Bedoya (sent home in anticipation of his wife giving birth). Besides Johnson and Bedoya, maybe Roldan, these departures were slightly shocking. The US looks to capture a Gold Cup title, with the addition of their veterans. Jesse Gonzalez, who recently switched his allegiance to the United States, will get a chance to train and meet his new teammates.
Players Who Made an Impact in the Group Stage
Jordan Morris – Morris came into camp with a “lack of goals” cloud looming over his head with his past games for the Seattle Sounders and US national team. However, he has been an attacking force throughout the group stage. His two goals against Martinique (one being the winner), saved the US from embarrassment. When not scoring, he has been making runs and creating chances for his teammates. His role will probably shrink to being a super-sub in the knockout stage, but Arena shouldn’t hesitate to bring the 22-year-old on to the field.
Kelyn Rowe – Making his debut for national team this Gold Cup, Rowe arguably was one of the best players for the team. It was surprising to see Bruce Arena send him home after the group stage. He was deadly in the Panama game, assisting the Dom Dwyer, while also firing shots on goal. Was rested for Martinique, then scored his first international goal against Nicaragua. He did not play the full 90 minutes in either match, so Arena maybe wanted to opt for someone that has more experience with the pace of international play. Regardless, Rowe should have stayed on the squad, and at least been considered to be subbed on in the knockout stages. Only true explanation for his departure could be an injury or lack of fitness.
Matt Miazga – The 21-year-old Chelsea player took full advantage of his start against Nicaragua. These games have been forgettable for most US defenders, but Miazga defended well and scored the goal that put the US at the top of the group. He made a great run on a set piece, and his diving header put a stamp on the match. Miazga could get another look, considering the lackluster performances by Omar Gonzalez.
Alejandro Bedoya – It is a real shame that the veteran US player has to leave the team, because he showed leadership in his games as captain. Always works hard on both sides of the ball in the midfield, and can play in multiple spots, when needed to. Bedoya earned man of the match honors with his two assists against Nicaragua. Bedoya showed his value to the national team with his recent performances, and will be a lock on upcoming rosters.
Dom Dwyer – The new US international scored in his first two games, and also was a threat to score in his last two. He is another surprise departure from the USA camp, especially when you consider Arena kept Juan Agudelo. Agudelo has not played horrible but also did not score any goals, which defines a striker. His only downside was a missed penalty kick against Nicaragua. Regardless, I said in my preview of the Gold Cup that Dwyer could add valuable depth to the striker position, and he showed that. I will not be surprised to see him again in upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Players Who Will Want to Forget Their Performances
Brad Guzan – Guzan rotates from being “Tim Howard’s replacement” to “US fans cringe when they see his name in the starting XI.” He always seems to go on a three or four game stretch of good matches, then collapses. His performance against Martinique made Arena opt to play Bill Hamid in the following match. The window may be closing on him as Howard’s replacement and opening for another.
Kellyn Acosta – I said in the preview of the Gold Cup, that Acosta needed to prove to be a reliable starter in midfield. He has not done so. Against Panama, he was sloppy with the ball and did not defend to his full potential. He cited his poor performance in a tweet after the match, which shows his acknowledgment for the need of improvement. Hopefully, he can turn things around in the upcoming matches.
Omar Gonzalez – His decision making has been very poor in the past games, which led to Arena benching him. Veterans cannot have lapses in defense, especially against sub-par teams. His Panama performance was OK, but a defender at his level should not allow two goals against Martinique (Although, he did score the opener for the US, which somewhat helped his case). The US’s main center back partnership looks to be Geoff Cameron and John Brooks, with no signs of changing. Both were not called in for the competition to train with their clubs overseas.
Graham Zusi – The ex-midfielder has been hit or miss at right back for the United States. He doesn’t also seem to show his passing ability like when he is higher up the field. His group stage performances have had defensive errors, but he offered chances with precise crosses. Overall, his role with the US is to provide depth at right back, when DeAndre Yedlin is absent from the team. So far, it has been hard to be fully convinced of his ability to play there at this level. He’ll most likely start at that position again, and he needs to put in a good defensive shift.
Players Whose Stock Didn’t Go Up or Down
Paul Arriola – The young midfielder hasn’t had much to show in his group stage matches. He has not showed his full attacking ability and potential.
Dax McCarty – Pulled strings in the midfield very well in the warm-up against Ghana. Since then, he hasn’t played at the same level. He started in the midfield that was a disaster against Panama. At 30 years old, he needs to hold down the midfield, if he wants to keep getting called in.
Matt Besler – Still is a reliable defender that can start, in times of need or injury. He also has slid out into fullback positions before for the US. He adds very valuable experience and performances for the United States.
The young and inexperienced 23-man squad for the USA showed the gap between the “A” and “B” team. It is hard to make a case for anyone to become a routine starter after the past three games, but some have pushed to be reliable back-ups, rotation guys, and up-and-coming players. Arena expected more in terms of individual efforts from the B-team, and now moves on to his A-team. His sights are now on winning the Gold Cup.