The United States men’s national team has one goal over the next 18 months since they decided to take a break from their regular World Cup participation.
That goal? Qualify for the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar*.
[ MORE: Mourinho rips forwards ]
(Insert next full-time coach’s name here)’s Yanks have not one but two paths to that appetizer for the 2022 World Cup. As the 2016 Gold Cup champions, they’ve guaranteed at worst a place in the 2020 CONCACAF Cup against the 2019 Gold Cup winner.
Or, and follow me here, they could win the 2019 Gold Cup and eliminate such a CONCACAF Cup.
Being CONCACAF, any number of things could happen during the tournament, but we learned something when the U.S. was not invited to the 2019 Copa America: Without a second tournament, Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, and friends will have access to their A-plus group of players should they desire to treat the competition seriously.
For the United States and (insert next full-time coach’s name here), it would be embarrassing to do anything less in the run-up to the return of World Cup qualifying the following Fall (though an expanded field could make qualifying for that tournament much closer to “just show up for a third of your games.”).
What will the United States’ top lineup look like come next summer? Well, the next 10-12 friendlies will tell us something, but plenty is up in the air. Assuming health, there are very few certainties in the group. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Brooks are going and probably starting; Matt Miazga and Tyler Adams also seem close to locks.
Player pool (Ages come June 2019 in parenthesis)
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (28), Zack Steffen (24), Alex Bono (25), Jesse Gonzalez (24), Ethan Horvath (24), Jonathan Klinsmann (22), Matt Turner (24).
Defenders: Brooks (26), Yedlin (25), Miazga (23), Shaq Moore (22), Cameron Carter-Vickers (21), Erik Palmer-Brown (22), Auston Trusty (20), Tim Parker (26), Walker Zimmerman (26), Danilo Acosta (21), Geoff Cameron (33), Steve Birnbaum (28), Timmy Chandler (29), Justen Glad (22), Ben Sweat (28), Nick Lima (24), Reggie Cannon (20), Antonee Robinson (21), Aaron Long (26), Keegan Rosenberry (25).
Midfielders: Adams (20), McKennie (20), Marky Delgado (24), Kenny Saief (25), Michael Bradley (31), Paul Arriola (24), Sean Davis (26), Jacori Hayes (23), Brooks Lennon (21), Cristian Roldan (24), Darlington Nagbe (28), Wil Trapp (26), Lynden Gooch (23), Danny Williams (30), Kellyn Acosta (23), Kelyn Rowe (27), Andrew Carleton (18), Luca de la Torre (21), Ale Bedoya (32), Sebastian Lletget (26).
Forwards: Pulisic (20), Tim Weah (19), Bobby Wood (26), Andrija Novakovich (22), Gyasi Zardes (27), Jordan Morris (24), Josh Sargent (19), Jozy Altidore (29), Clint Dempsey (36), Aron Johannsson (28), Terrence Boyd (28), Juan Agudelo (28).
Pick your 23. Here’s our best guess — GK: Steffen, Horvath, Klinsmann. DEF: Brooks, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Cameron, Chandler, Yedlin, Moore, Robinson. MID: Adams, McKennie, Delgado, Bradley, Roldan, Williams, K. Acosta, Saief. FWD: Pulisic, Wood, Altidore, Sargent.
And an XI: I think the captain Bradley is going to have to play his way out of his job at CM (unless his TFC transition to CB become full-time), so we won’t always see McKennie and Adams together is the center of the park. Robinson gets the left back gig unless Danilo Acosta makes great strides or the new coach thinks he can play Moore or Nick Lima on the other side of the pitch. We’ll go hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1, though Pulisic could well get every chance to be a No. 10 (and who knows where he’ll be playing next season in club ball).
Yedlin — Brooks — Miazga — Robinson
McKennie — Bradley — Adams
Pulisic — Altidore — Saief
*-They still could move the 2021 Confederations Cup and 2022 World Cup from Qatar. It’s really not too late.