Brad Guzan

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Extremely early, Gold Cup glee-driven thoughts on a USMNT World Cup roster

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The United States men’s national team won its sixth Gold Cup title on Wednesday, topping Jamaica 2-1 on a late winner from Jordan Morris.

It’s the sort of goal that moves a 22-year-old forward’s name from pencil to pen on a World Cup roster, one the Yanks will hopefully be planning following qualifying under Bruce Arena.

Morris is one of several players who took hold of their chances to march into Russia via fine performances as part of the USMNT’s “B Team” in the Gold Cup, along with Darlington Nagbe, Matt Besler, and maybe Paul Arriola (This assumes you hadn’t already counted Omar Gonzalez).

[ MORE: Recap | Altidore’s free kick | 3 things ]

It seems to us there are six spots in play right now. The forward batch of four is set and Ethan Horvath will probably join Tim Howard and Brad Guzan in the goalkeeper corps.

Five defenders look set and the same amount of midfielders (Besler, Brooks, Cameron, Gonzalez, Yedlin, Bedoya, Bradley, Johnson, Nagbe, Pulisic), leaving three defender and three midfielder spots. It looks set to come down to Kenny Saief or Kelyn Rowe in the midfield, and Tim Ream or Graham Zusi at the back.

So what’s the United States’ 23-man roster look like for Russia right now? Here’s our best guess (and we’re thinking as Arena, not us):

Goalkeepers (3): Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath

Defenders (8): Matt Besler, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez, Jorge Villafana, DeAndre Yedlin, Graham Zusi.

Midfielders (8): Kellyn Acosta, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, Kelyn Rowe.

Forwards (4):  Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood.

Bonus seven-man waiting list: Joe Corona, Dom Dwyer, Dax McCarty, Tim Ream, Kenny Saief, Danny Williams, Gyasi Zardes.

Three things from the USMNT’s sixth Gold Cup

AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The United States men’s national team is now one Gold Cup title behind Mexico after claiming its sixth trophy with a 2-1 win over Jamaica on Thursday in California.

[ MORE: Match recap | Altidore’s free kick ]

Here’s what we learned from a fun win over the Reggae Boyz.

A moment for U.S. Soccer history

It doesn’t matter whether the Americans were heavy favorites or underdogs (they were heavy favorites), a title-winning match is going to make memories for an entire program.

That it was Stanford product Jordan Morris who scored the match winner in the 88th minute only makes it better.

Morris is a symbol of the many paths Americans can take to the national team, and his industrious efforts and “100 mph at all-times” motor received a deserved exclamation point.

“It’s unbelievable. Every time I step on this field it’s an honor to represent this country. This game was amazing. Jamaica made it really tough and I was nervous cause it was my guy who scored on the goal so I was trying to make up for it any way I could.”

It wasn’t Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, or Jozy Altidore who etched their names in U.S. Soccer history, and that’s a good note for this side as it builds toward, hopefully, the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That picture above says a lot.

Bruce gets it right (mostly)

While being careful not to give the legendary U.S. boss too much credit for choosing 10 of his best 11 and trotting out the same lineup from a solid win over Costa Rica, Arena had five games to find a team that would win a final on home soil and he successfully pulled that off.

He was right to know he could navigate the group stage with an experimental bunch, even if those games showed that the American depth isn’t near what many of us hoped it might be at this point in the program’s development.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

What it means for a World Cup or even the rest of CONCACAF qualifying is another thing, but the quality of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Tim Howard is too much for all of CONCACAF but Mexico (and Costa Rica on its best day).

Lauding Arena for plugging Dempsey into the match as his first sub is like lauding a pizzeria owner for ordering mozzarella for his pies, so let’s move to sub No. 2. It was a risk to plug ice-cold Gyasi Zardes into the match, and the LA Galaxy man did not look good for most of the match. But his cross on the winner got the job done, and you can’t take that away from the team.

The future feels bright

Michael Bradley was given the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament, and the fact that the Yanks clearly arrived in the tournament with their captain’s return to the fold following the group stage is no coincidence.

Yet it is a pleasant and mild surprise. Bradley had not starred for the U.S. for some time, though he is clearly their best option in the middle of the park. For him to arrive and put in a calm, collected, and dominant batch of shifts is a good sign heading into some tough World Cup qualifiers.

Tim Howard proved again that there was never any need to consider anyone else as a No. 1 — even though Brad Guzan had some great moments in the group stage — while Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey both shined in spots.

Considering that Christian Pulisic, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, and Bobby Wood were (probably) just hanging out in Europe during the tournament shows that the Americans can feel good about life. That’s a marked change from life under Jurgen Klinsmann, and U.S. Soccer has been proven right time and again by that move. The jury’s still out on Arena, but that same jury has good vibes right now.

Gonzalez follows heart in switch from Mexico to USMNT

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jesse Gonzalez started in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup for Mexico, his parents’ homeland. Then last month, the 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper switched his affiliation to join the United States, his home country.

Gonzalez just felt more comfortable in the red, white and blue.

“The U.S. has given me a lot. I’m grateful for what they have given me and the opportunity they have given me,” he said after joining the U.S. roster for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Tim Howard, now 38, remains the top U.S. goalkeeper as the Americans try to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Brad Guzan, who will be 33 in September, is entrenched as the No. 2.

After that, no keepers have emerged at the top level in the next generation. Gonzalez, and fellow 20-somethings Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper and Ethan Horvath all figure to compete with Guzan for the starting job in the 2019-22 World Cup cycle.

“I don’t have any doubt that he will be one of the best keepers in America,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of Gonzalez after discovering the teen prospect when he was playing in a youth tournament.

Gonzalez’s parents emigrated from Mexico, and he was born in Edenton, North Carolina.

“My parents didn’t really find anything around North Carolina,” Gonzalez said. “They thought it was a lonely state, so they got out of there.”

His family moved to Houston and then on to Dallas when Gonzalez was a child. After spotting Gonzalez on a recreational team, Pareja persuaded the family to switch the keeper to the FC Dallas youth academy. He played there alongside midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who has broken into the U.S. starting lineup this year.

“They taught me how to be more responsible,” Gonzalez said. “It was almost like a job at the time, just waking up early and being on time to training.”

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Pareja, a Colombian national team midfielder in the early 1990s, said the 6-foot-4 Gonzalez’s long arms and quick reflexes immediately reminded him of late Colombian keeper Miguel Calero. Gonzalez debuted for Dallas’ under-16 team in September 2010 and was signed to a professional homegrown player contract in March 2013. Just more than two years later, he became the youngest keeper to start in team history: at 20 years, 89 days.

By then, Mexican team scouts had noticed Gonzalez at a showcase in Sarasota, Florida, and asked whether he had interest in playing for El Tri.

“Richard Sanchez, one of my old teammates, he was there. He talked very well about them,” Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez started Mexico’s first four matches at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, then had a pair of saves during penalty kicks to lift Mexico over Panama in the final. At the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, he played in Mexico’s second and third games,

The following January, Gonzalez turned down an invitation from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to attend a national team training camp in Carson, California. Instead, Gonzalez went to a Mexican Under-23 team camp ahead of the Olympics, but he was not picked for El Tri’s Rio de Janeiro roster.

Gonzalez spent a long time before deciding this spring to apply to FIFA for a change of affiliation. Because he had not played a competitive match for Mexico’s senior national team, he was allowed a one-time switch.

“Whatever you decide, you’re going to be right, because that’s going to be your heart,” Pareja recalled telling him.

“Any time a soccer player is making a choice, whether it’s club or country, it’s important that they analyze the options carefully, they seek input from people they trust, and that they come to a decision that they’re happy with,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Richard Motzkin. “That’s the process Jesse took in making his decision and, rest assured, it wasn’t done lightly or without a lot of forethought. Ultimately, Jesse was fortunate in that he had two very good choices.”

After the switch was announced, Gonzalez received text messages from surprised friends.

“They were funny,” he said without going into detail.

[ MORE: Mexico blocking out drama during deep run at Gold Cup ]

Howard is the U.S. starter as the Americans head into Wednesday’s Gold Cup championship against Mexico or Jamaica, and Hamid is the backup while Guzan settles in with Atlanta. For now, Gonzalez’s role is limited to training and pushing others on the practice field.

“We just want to see what he’s about,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Gonzalez is with the national team to learn. A full international debut might take a while.

“He’s not much of talker, which is good. I think young guys talk too much nowadays,” Howard said. “You’re naive in a good way and you think you know it all, and really it’s the opposite. You have it all to learn. At this age they’re using their athletic ability and their raw talent to keep their head above water, and through that process you learn. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. It’s got to be everything to you. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to get there.”

Gonzalez is willing to wait. He just hopes his absence from Dallas doesn’t cost him playing time in Major League Soccer.

“My backup could come in and have great games. He could stay there,” he said. “It’s difficult for me. I want to be over there, but I want to be here because this is an amazing opportunity for me.”

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City 0-1 Atlanta United (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Friday night’s effort at Orlando City Stadium wasn’t the prettiest for either side but Atlanta United will gladly take three points from the fixture as the Central Florida venue proved to be a fortress once more. The Lions were far superior in their attacking threats throughout the match, testing USMNT and Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan on multiple occasions. However, it was Hector Villalba that proved to be the difference when he blasted a long-distance effort to beat Joe Bendik in the 86th minute. Atlanta extends its unbeaten streak to four matches with Friday’s decision, keeping Tata Martino’s side in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, while Orlando City moves into fifth.

Three moments that mattered

36′ — Guzan stands tall, denies Rivas — Carlos Rivas thought he scorched this one (and he did…), but Brad Guzan acted like it was nothing as he held his ground to make the stop.

39′ — Spector gets ripped off by Guzan — The U.S. goalkeeper is at it again… What a save!

86′ — Villalba unleashes stunner to propel Atlanta — Sometimes it just takes one good hit as a striker.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Brad Guzan

Goalscorers: Hector Villalba (86′)

USMNT stock up, stock down after Gold Cup group stage

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Bruce Arena took a look at 22 of the 23 men on his 2017 Gold Cup group stage roster, with everyone but NYCFC backstop Sean Johnson seeing time.

Six players received just 90 minutes, while only Alejandro Bedoya (203) and Dax McCarty (184) played more than the equivalent of two full matches.

Bedoya and Johnson were sent home after the group stage, along with Brad Guzan, Dom Dwyer, Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe. Oddly enough, four of those six players were pretty good in the tournament.

[ MORE: U.S. the new front-runner? ]

Before getting to the 22 men in question, perhaps it’s better to begin by asking if there were any of the first-choice players whose stock took a hit from being given the summer off. Given the Yanks’ remarkably disappointing performances in games one and two, it might be odd to suggest that any did, but Dom Dwyer and Jordan Morris’ performances at least guaranteed continued competition for Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey. Jurgen Klinsmann listed Julian Green as a midfielder on the 2014 World Cup roster, and carried Dempsey, Altidore, Chris Wondolowski, and Aron Johannsson in Brazil.

Stock up

Alejandro Bedoya — Whether you rate the Philadelphia Union midfielder as a mainstay, an ancillary piece or just depth, Arena handed him the arm band and played him more than any other player. Looked better in the middle of the park than the wing.

Omar Gonzalez — Unsure you’ll ever feel supreme confidence with him as a starting CB against top competition, but he was composed and good in the air. Connected on 57 of 58 pass attempts.

Matt Besler — Ninety-six attempted passes led the team, as did his 87 correct offerings. The Sporting KC man has his place in the team, and World Cup experience to boot.

Kelyn Rowe — We’d be shocked if his departure back to New England had anything to do with his fine performances with the USMNT. Played a role in a conceded goal, but was a dynamic creator when his team was lacking that role.

Matt Miazga Finished 21 of 22 passes, scored a goal, and begged to be given more time to shine. Where Chelsea sends him on loan and how he fares will be closely monitored.

Jordan Morris — His seven shots and two goals led the team, and one even came with his left foot. Emblematic of the homegrown American talent, it was good to see him finish chances again.

Eric Lichaj Small sample size alert, but the three fouls he suffered in his lone game puts him behind just three players on average. Hoping Arena lets him play alongside the big boys.

Brad Guzan —  It has been a while since we saw the new Atlanta United backstop shine in a USMNT kit, and he did it twice. Clearly the 2 in the 1-2 with Tim Howard.

Dom Dwyer — Missed penalty aside, showed moxie and a nose for goal. Most importantly, he scored in a game where the ball wasn’t finding him; That’s a quality attribute for an international striker.

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Stock down

Cristian Roldan — This should read “short term stock down.” At age 22 he should have plenty more chances to impress Arena and future U.S. coaches, but he certainly didn’t demand Russia consideration based on his 90 minutes.

Matt Hedges — If you searched our site for his name, you’d see no one has championed his call-up to the national team more but he was hurt for speed during his one-off appearance.

Graham Zusi — Not a right back, at least not in a system not focused to his strengths and weaknesses, but Arena’s continued use of the Sporting KC man in that spot show that our stock down might not be his stock down. That said, we’re open to the idea of him as a right mid.

Chris Pontius — An exceptional talent and industrious worker, he didn’t star and is 30 years old. Doesn’t change our opinion of the Union man, but probably hurts his World Cup dreams.

Gyasi Zardes — Like Zusi, this isn’t his fault. Unlike Zusi, Zardes was playing his natural position as he continued his recent malaise. The group stage allowed Jordan Morris to break out of the funk he brought with him from MLS; Zardes could do no such thing. Maybe this is a all just a step in his continued recovery process.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Could go either way

Justin Morrow — Only saw 90 minutes as Jorge Villafana is going to get every chance to seize this job. That’s not an indictment on Morrow, though the Toronto FC left back did not do anything fantastic to demand more playing time (Leaning? Up).

Kellyn Acosta — Still think he’s a future mainstay on the team, but perhaps we see why Klinsmann elected to try him at left back rather than the center mid spot he plays for FC Dallas; His talent, athleticism, and ideas are outstanding, but he also shows his age often when the unexpected happens. At 21, this is going to get better… but by Russia? (Leaning? Up).

Dax McCarty — Along with Acosta, was a revelation in the friendly against Ghana. Did plenty of good in two 90-minute performances, but perhaps is yet to convince Arena or the fan base that he can be a Kyle Beckerman-style key piece of a roster puzzle. (Leaning? Up).

Paul Arriola —  Really liked his mettle, and in a coincidental statistic the U.S. is 6W-1D in matches he’s hit the pitch. At age 22, his slim hopes for the roster comes from contributing as a sub. Can he do it when it matters in the knockout rounds? Will he get the chance? (Leaning? Up).

Jorge Villafana — Can fly up and down the left flank, but still missing something in his own end and the final third. Still, he’s going to get every chance to allow Arena to keep Fabian Johnson at left back. (Leaning? Down).

Juan Agudelo — Bright and lively at times, missed the finishing touch that would have American fans recapturing their enthusiasm of years ago. (Leaning? Down).

Joe Corona — Scored a goal and showed he’s up for the challenge skill and vision wise, but also drifted out of the game at times and took one of the worst on frame penalties you’re going to see this year. (Leaning? Up).

Bill Hamid — Did what he needed to do against Nicaragua, but remains behind Howard and Guzan while waiting to see if Jesse Gonzalez is the eventual No. 3 for Russia (should the Yanks qualify for the 2018 World Cup). (Leaning? Up).