A Tale of Two Rosters: The U.S. Senior Side and U23s
February 17, 2016
MARCH IS GOING TO BE A PIVOTAL MONTH for U.S. Soccer. The full national team will play a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala while the U-23 team will be the underdog when it takes on Colombia in a two-games series with an Olympic spot on the line.
Rosters for each will consist of 23 players, with some younger players in the mix for both. And especially after last month’s joint training camp, there’s a lot for Jurgen Klinsmann and Andi Herzog to discuss. Here’s a look at how both squads could shape up.
The Senior Team
1. Tim Howard
2. Brad Guzan
3. David Bingham
In the mix: Nick Rimando, Luis Robles, Sean Johnson
Howard and Guzan are the obvious top choices despite benchings at their respective clubs. The third goalkeeper spot is likely to come down to Robles and Bingham, who split starts in the January camp games. It’ll be close, but it’s worth noting how quick Klinsmann was to praise Bingham afterward.
4. DeAndre Yedlin
5. Steve Birnbaum
6. John Brooks
7. Omar Gonzalez
8. Matt Besler
9. Geoff Cameron
10. Jorge Villafana
11. Tim Ream
In the mix: Timothy Chandler, Brad Evans, Brek Shea, Ventura Alvarado, Michael Orozco
The good news is that the team has a bunch of central defenders playing well at the moment. The bad is that the fullback options are thin.
Centrally, John Brooks is available for the U-23s, but Hertha Berlin is not required to release him for that team like it would for World Cup qualifiers. Matt Besler looked solid at January camp and Omar Gonzalez is playing his best soccer since 2011, while Ventura Alvarado is riding the bench at Club America. Geoff Cameron, meanwhile has been dealing with injuries, but if he is back to playing, he is a regular starter in the Premier League—and had a strong showing at the CONCACAF Cup in October.
The outside spots are going to be interesting. DeAndre Yedlin could be in a position to earn minutes the next few weeks at right back for Sunderland, which would put him in position to do the same for the U.S. Like Brooks he’s eligible for the U-23s, but unlike Brooks he has yet to be a part of that group.
As far as other options go, Jurgen Klinsmann said that Steve Birnbaum’s performance at right back against Canada “outstanding,” adding that “the way he kind of intercepted so many balls, cleaned them up, and connected them cleanly with midfielders or even strikers was important.” Based on those comments, Birnbaum might have jumped ahead of Brad Evans in the right back pecking order.
Fabian Johnson remains an option at left back, but given the year he’s had there’s a strong case to be made that he belongs in the midfield. If that’s the case, who’s left? Well, Tim Ream played left back for the team in 2015 and should remain an option. But Edgar Castillo has fallen out of favor and Greg Garza is still hurt. If you’re looking for a player who could sneak in for his first national team call-up, then, pay attention to Jorge Villafana, who is off to a promising start at Santos Laguna.
12. Michael Bradley
13. Kyle Beckerman
14. Alejandro Bedoya
15. Fabian Johnson
16. Darlington Nagbe
17. Alfredo Morales
18. Ethan Finlay
19. Lee Nguyen
In the mix: Danny Williams, Tony Tchani, Mix Diskerud, Perry Kitchen
Several players, such as Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya, are locks. Johnson will definitely be involved also, but as noted above, he could be listed as a defender. With Jermaine Jones suspended for these games, Kyle Beckerman is a likely pick, although Geoff Cameron could play defensive midfield as well, as he did in the 2014 World Cup against Belgium. If healthy, Darlington Nagbe seems another sure bet after impressing in his U.S. debut in November.
Worth noting: MLS will still be in the early parts of its season in March while the European-based players (and even the Mexican-based players) will be in midseason form. That probably will make things difficult for Mix Diskerud, competing against the likes of Alfredo Morales and Danny Williams. Morales has yet to fully break into this team, but he is playing regularly in the Bundesliga for Ingolstadt and should get the nod.
Ethan Finlay will be a very close call, but there are very few players in the pool who play a pure winger role, so as of now he has unique tools to offer. Lee Nguyen, lastly, was singled out by Klinsmann for his preparedness at the January camp, and he may have showed enough in the two friendlies as a playmaker to warrant another call.
20. Clint Dempsey
21. Bobby Wood
22. Jozy Altidore
23. Gyasi Zardes
In the mix: Chris Wondolowski, Andrew Wooten
This group is rather straightforward. It’s hard to see Dempsey not being part of the equation despite his not being part of January camp or the November qualifiers. Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood are regular parts of the team now, while Gyasi Zardes was one of the most-used players in 2015. Aron Johannsson might return to Werder Bremen before the end of March but even so he would be more than a bit behind in terms of fitness and rhythm.
The U-23 Team
1. Cody Cropper
2. Ethan Horvath
3. Zach Steffen
In the mix: Jon Kempin, Charlie Horton
These three are the established top trio for this age group. The only reason someone else might sneak in is in case of an injury or if a club does not release a player; the latter already happened with Horvath and Molde in October.
4. Desevio Payne
5. Eric Miller
6. Matt Miazga
7. Cameron Carter-Vickers
8. Tim Parker
9. Kellyn Acosta
10. Brandon Vincent
In the mix: Oscar Sorto, Shane O’Neill, David Romney, Boyd Okwuonu, Erik Palmer-Brown, Juan Ocegueda
A big factor for this camp will be the release of European players such as Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Desevio Payne. Payne has been getting quality Eredivisie minutes, and after a strong U-20 World Cup in 2015, he seems like a strong candidate to re-enter the fold.
Normally a midfielder, Kellyn Acosta started at left back for the full team at January camp and impressed. He didn’t show well at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in the same role, but it would seem he’s gotten the hang of it. Brandon Vincent, also a part of January camp, is a likely first-time inclusion with the U-23s for these matches.
Andi Herzog, of course, would love to bring John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin along. It seems a long shot.
11. Wil Trapp
12. Matt Polster
13. Marc Pelosi
14. Gedion Zelalem
15. Emerson Hyndman
16. Luis Gil
17. Christian Pulisic
18. Julian Green
19. Dillon Serna
In the mix: Fatai Alashe, Gboly Ariyibi, Paul Arriola
Many of the players in this group have been with the team for a while, but the one newcomer to watch is Christian Pulisic, who has been getting a lot of attention after breaking into Borussia Dortmund’s first team over the past month. Julian Green has been in and out of this team, but his World Cup experience probably earns him the nod. If Green stumbles, though, there could be an opening for Paul Arriola, who is playing more regularly with Club Tijuana and had a strong 2015 U-20 World Cup.
20. Jordan Morris
21. Jerome Kiesewetter
22. Rubio Rubin
23. Khiry Shelton
In the mix: Jose Villarreal, Maki Tall
Jordan Morris is the star forward on this group, but Rubio Rubin is slowly coming back from surgery and could factor into these games. Jerome Kiesewetter is a lock after providing a spark off the bench in both January-camp friendlies, and Khiry Shelton should join him after having been part of the November friendlies and January camp.
The United States senior team should be fine regardless of the question marks surrounding a few positions. Earning a point away at Trinidad and Tobago in November was likely its toughest test of this World Cup qualifying round.
The U-23 team, however, has a serious uphill climb and avoiding a multigoal defeat in Colombia is key if it wants to pull off the upset. Securing the release of European players will be a real test for Klinsmann and Herzog. If Brooks and Yedlin could somehow join the U-23s along with Pulisic, Miazga, Payne, Carter-Vickers and a healthy Rubin, it could be interesting.
Unfortunately, there are too many “ifs” for U.S. fans to feel optimistic at this point.
What do you think of these two prospective rosters? Can either or both get the job done? Are there other players you'd rather see on these squads? Share your take below.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.