U.S. Men's National Team
And Then There Were 23: Arena Makes Roster Cuts
January 27, 2017
UNITED STATES men's national team head coach Bruce Arena made his final cuts to the team’s January camp roster today, selecting the 23 players who will represent the Stars and Stripes against Serbia and Jamaica. This games are significant in that they will offer insight into Arena’s first steps as the national team coach.
Earlier in camp, Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta returned to FC Dallas with injuries and Kektuh Manneh rejoined Vancouver as he is not yet eligible for the U.S. team. Shortly afterward, Santos Laguna left back Jorge Villafana joined the team as he has not been playing much with his club’s first team.
The final five cuts on Friday were Taylor Kemp, Keegan Rosenberry, Brian Rowe, Wil Trapp, and Chris Wondolowski. It was also announced that Gyasi Zardes has minor contusion in his right knee and will not travel with the team.
Here's the final roster.
David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (L.A. Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union)
Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)
Midfield lineup against Serbia will be telling
All eyes should be on the midfield on Sunday afternoon. Of the nine midfielders on the roster, only three were included on the 2014 World Cup team: Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones, and Michael Bradley. Since Jones will be 36-years-old next summer, there is strong chance he could be passed over inside of the next year.
Arena has hinted at this pretty regularly but he wants more possession and better passing in the attacking third. The midfielders in camp who were never part of Klinsmann’s plans all have skills that could address this.
Dax McCarty and Darlington Nagbe are possession guys and usually complete a huge percentage of their passes. Nagbe is a little flashier and versatile while McCarty can do the defensive dirty work.
Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, and Chris Pontius are veterans who are all still playing at a high level. They are more comfortable higher in the attack and are always looking to play a dangerous final ball.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Lletget can play either on the wing or centrally. Arena is very familiar with him from their time with the Galaxy and Lletget was an important part of that team’s offense
If Arena goes with a 4-4-2 lineup, it seems likely that Bradley will be in a deeper or box-to-box role and will not push into the attack as he often did under Klinsmann. I would expect the midfield to be in a diamond formation with Alejandro Bedoya and either Sebastian Lletget or Chris Pontius out wide. The top of the diamond will either fall to Sacha Kljestan or Benny Feilhaber.
The backline picture is a little clearer after earlier injuries and Friday’s cuts. Aside from Brad Evans, who is a serviceable backup at many different positions, there are only three remaining natural central defenders on the roster: Walker Zimmerman, Chad Marshall, and Steve Birnbaum.
At this moment it is hard to say what the pecking order is among these three although Arena did single out Marshall and Zimmerman in recent interviews. All three are somewhat similar in that they dominate in the aerial game and give the U.S. offensive threats on set pieces.
The fullback positions are less clear.
At first glance, the left back options are Jorge Villafana, Greg Garza, and DaMarcus Beasley. All three come with a lot of question marks.
The late addition of Villafana is interesting but it is important to note he has lost his starting spot at Santos Laguna and has not played in Liga Mx since September. The fact his club was willing to let him go to these friendlies during the season is also not good for him. Still, this is an opportunity. Beasley is obviously older but still has speed and still has tremendous experience.
Garza could be in a good position but he has been hit hard with injuries the last two years which has limited him to under 400 minutes the last two seasons in Liga Mx. Garza, however, is younger than Beasley and with his loan to Atlanta, he is in a much better position to see regular minutes at left back in 2017.
All three players should see minutes the next two games at left back but Garza is in the drivers’ seat at the moment. The goal here at left back is to give Arena a reason to move Fabian Johnson into the midfield (his best and preferred position) and not play him at left back.
At this moment, there are not many left backs in the pool. Other options outside of MLS include either Jonathan Bornstein or Edgar Castillo, who both play in Mexico, or someone like Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj, who plays on the right but has experience on the left.
The two right backs Arena has at his disposal for these games are Graham Zusi and Brad Evans—players who have very little club experience at the position. Zusi is particularly interesting since this would be his international debut in the backline. Zusi's skillset—including good crossing ability—make him an nteresting candidate
The importance of right back in this camp, however, is not nearly as important as other positions given that European-based DeAndre Yedlin and Timothy Chandler are likely the top two options.
Behind the cuts
Among the five players cut on Friday, there were some surprises.
Keegan Rosenberry came into camp off a rookie season and perhaps it might just be that he is not ready yet. Taylor Kemp played the left back position, but the decision to bring in Jorge Villafana could also mean that he did not live up to Arena’s needs for the position. Wil Trapp faced stiff competition in central midfield and it was always going to be an uphill climb to surpass McCarty, Bradley, Jones, or Nagbe for that position.
Finally, the most notable cut is Chris Wondolowksi who is often maligned by fans but is still a popular player among teammates. He was a regular under Klinsmann, often at the expense of younger forwards like Jordan Morris or Juan Agudelo. With both Morris and Agudelo on the roster, this could be the end of the line for Wondolowski who will turn 34 tomorrow.
It is very possible he could finish his national team career with 35 caps and 11 goals—quite a rise for a player who was drafted with the 41st pick of an MLS Supplemental draft and played Division II soccer at Chico State. You can’t entirely count Wondolowski out as Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson, and Clint Dempsey all have unsettling health/injury histories. But if his last appearance came in October against Cuba in Havana, it is nice to see him go out with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win.