Even before his preliminary USMNT Gold Cup roster, Jürgen Klinsmann should have had all of these players in mind.
Below is a stronger and more balanced Gold Cup roster than Jürgen Klinsmann’s preliminary Gold Cup roster or his final roster (for the group stage):
GOALKEEPERS: Luis ROBLES, Clint IRWIN, Dan KENNEDY
Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson are promising prospects, but were Robles, Irwin, and Kennedy even given a chance? Many people regard Robles as a mistake machine, but the same can be said of Hamid and Johnson.
It’s hard to be a goalkeeper with no one behind you to save you from mistakes. People criticize goalkeepers when they stay on their line and when they come off their line, but Robles, Irwin, and Kennedy were equally as worthy as Hamid and Johnson of roster spots.
Robles is more controversial than Irwin and Kennedy, but it’s hard to believe that Hamid and Johnson really outperformed Robles, Irwin, and Kennedy in MLS.
In many ways, Irwin and Kennedy are less prone to mistakes than Hamid and Johnson, while Robles is a keeper who makes phenomenal saves with the occasional overly-criticized mistake.
RIGHT BACKS: Jonathan SPECTOR, Kofi SARKODIE
Jonathan Spector proved himself against Brazil and Spain. Enough said. Not calling up an internationally-proven right back was inexcusable.
Kofi Sarkodie was another Klinsmann snub. Like DeAndre Yedlin who maybe should have been in the running for the preliminary Gold Cup roster despite his involvement in this summer’s U-20 World Cup, Sarkodie brings great speed and attacking play, which is one of the trademarks of modern outside backs, and Sarkodie has a sizeable body of MLS work for Klinsmann to have seen.
This Gold Cup was supposed to take players who had the tools to play international soccer and get them experience in the Gold Cup without calling up overly inexperienced players. Sarkodie certainly has demonstrated that his recovery defense, his attacking, and the threat he poses along the right flank are valuable assets for the USMNT.
LEFT BACKS: Chris KLUTE, Edgar CASTILLO
Chris Klute is personally backed by Eric Wynalda, and observers have been seeing just how effective his two-way ability is. For a country with precious few left backs, Klute has more than enough MLS starts and minutes to now consider him an experienced MLS player with the physical gifts and technical ability to excel at the international level.
Klute is known for his speed, but Klute possesses great touch, passing, overlapping runs, and crossing ability. When so many people just blindly hit crosses, Klute makes his way down the sideline and through traffic to play controlled passes into the box that have a specific target in mind.
Klute’s tackling, heading, speed, and two-way threat are there for all to see. Klute has been praised by Eric Wynalda, Marcelo Balboa, and Alexi Lalas, and it’s hard for Klinsmann and his staff to say that they’ve selected the best MLS players when a player with Klute’s skills and physical gifts wasn’t even mentioned.
Edgar Casillo made Klinsmann’s roster, and with good reason. Casillo had an impressive season with Xolos in La Liga MX as well as the Copa Libertadores. Castillo has improved his game tremendously over the past year, and his inclusion on the roster wasn’t considered surprising or controversial.
CENTER BACKS: George JOHN, Amobi OKUGO, Andrew FARRELL, Gale AGBOSSOUMONDE
Andrew Farrell is a center back who has been playing as a right back for the New England Revolution, but a good way to make a lot of money would be to bet someone that Farrell’s skill, speed, and tackling eclipse Onyewu’s and Goodson’s. Farrell’s speed and ability is immediately noticeable. His time spent living in Peru because of his parents taught him the superiority of advanced technical ability and one-to-two touch passing.
George John’s exclusion makes no sense. John is regarded as one of the best center backs in MLS, and his services have been sought after by EPL teams and the Greek national team. Klinsmann has decided to just pretend that he doesn’t exist.
Gale Agbossoumonde is a well-known name in American soccer circles. For a stretch of some 10 MLS games, Agbossoumonde performed very well when Toronto FC’s more established center backs were unavailable.
Some 10 games worth of video to study (including a game marking Thierry Henry) is more than enough video evidence for Klinsmann to see the comfort on the ball Agbossoumonde brings in addition to his exceptional size, athleticism, defensive timing, and his soccer IQ.
Klinsmann wants Americans to blindly except the exclusion of Agbossoumonde over unqualified center backs like Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu.
For all of Klinsmann’s talk of change, proactive play, and better technical ability, Klinsmann is totally unwilling to let younger, more athletic, and more skilled players play at almost any position, even in the group stage of a tournament like the Gold Cup, which features truly poor competition.
Amobi Okugo can play as a defensive midfielder or as a center back, and he like George John was widely regarded as a Klinsmann snub. While Agbossoumonde and Farrell are choices for a coach who recognizes the need to use less experienced but better players, John and Okugo were players who the American soccer media widely viewed as roster snubs.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS: Perry KITCHEN, Jeremy HALL
Kyle Beckerman was chosen to play in the Gold Cup, and Beckerman cannot play international soccer. He’s slow. He’s not quick, and he has never been able to keep up with the pace of the game against basically anyone the United States has faced when Jürgen Klinsmann was the coach or before.
On the other hand, Perry Kitchen and Jeremy Hall are upgrades to Beckerman. They are quicker. Their tackles are less reckless and better timed, and they have a more advanced skill-set. Jeremy Hall scored a goal this season in MLS where he muscled Giles Barnes off a bouncing ball and then somewhat Cruyffed his defender to get free, and then he scored a goal from outside of the box.
This display of skill combined with the athleticism and overall defensive and passing performance that he has displayed this year makes him a far superior international defensive midfielder to Beckerman.
Kitchen is a known commodity. He tackles and shields the ball well, and he knows how to pass well with both feet without conceding possession.
With his superior athleticism and comfort on the ball over Beckerman in addition to his ability to play center back, Kitchen would have been a much wiser choice than Beckerman who has shown that he cannot keep up with the speed of international play without excessive, reckless, and mistimed tackling.
Beckerman is something of a walking yellow yard, and he’s a walking red card against faster players.
ATTACKING AND BOX-BOX MIDFIELDERS: Benny FEILHABER, Joe CORONA, Stuart HOLDEN, Benji JOYA
Everyone in this category has a proven track record of international success. Benny Feilhaber and Stuart Holden are known commodities that have flourished against some of the best players in the world, and Joe Corona proved himself in the Copa Libertadores and La Liga MX. Klinsmann called him up, but in World Cup qualifying Klinsmann seemed to view Corona’s proven-ability to play creative, proactive soccer against the likes of Paulinho as irrelevant. Graham Zusi, a 26 year old MLS player who just signed a four year contract extension, was chosen to start over a creative attacking midfielder with smooth passing ability and strong scoring potential.
Even Benji Joya should have been on the preliminary roster, as the U-20 U.S. national team was in the group of death at the U-20 World Cup. Anyone who saw Joya play Paul Pogba had further confirmation of the skill that has already been on display for quite some time from the young midfielder. Joya is a complete midfielder who silenced his critics when he played against Pogba.
(Additional Attacking Midfielders) WINGERS: Joe GYAU, Brek SHEA
To give the USMNT the option of speed and skill out wide, both Gyau and Shea bring excellent speed and skill and the willingness to cut into toward the middle of the penalty box and try to score or set up their teammates. With most of the width normally coming from the outside backs, two extremely fast and slippery wingers on the roster gives the U.S. a different dimension with which to attack opponents.
At the very least, players like Gyau and Shea disrupt the defensive shape of opponents, which opens up space for these wingers’ teammates.
STRIKERS: Juan AGUDELO, Terrence BOYD, Lamar NEAGLE, Tony TAYLOR
The American soccer media can continue to insist that the MLS scoring-rate of American strikers is an accurate barometer of international success, but a realistic perspective of world soccer proves this to be questionable.
While a certain type of form and ability in MLS can signal the ability to play international soccer effectively as a striker, history has taught the United States that even small soccer countries often have faster and more skilled defenders than what is normally prevalent in MLS.
The competition in the Gold Cup is poor, but the point is to see how good the talent is outside of the players that Jürgen Klinsmann has been normally calling up.
The exclusion of Juan Agudelo from the USMNT’s Gold Cup roster is nearly impossible to support. Will Bruin has four MLS goals this season, and Chris Wondolowski has five; both are on the roster.
Agudelo has five MLS goals plus 17 caps inside a tall physique with lean and fast-twitch muscles that have translated to the international level.
Agudelo is too creative, too quick, too adventurous, and too dangerous to be excluded from a national team like the United States,’ which needs all the players like this that it can get its hands on.
Tony Taylor has been criticized for not playing too often in Portugal, but how many American strikers actually play at all in Portugal, and how many aren’t dropped by their second division teams when the team moves up into a league with great talent like the Portuguese Primeira Liga?
American soccer writers will try to compare battling for playing time in the Primeira Liga as less impressive than scoring regularly in MLS, but this opinion tries in vain to convince knowledgeable soccer observers that MLS and the Primeira Liga are comparable, even for a Primeira Liga bench player.
Taylor is very fast and skilled, and the fact that he wasn’t dropped by Estoril Praia when they moved up to the Primeira Liga says a lot. Certainly, Estoril could have found strikers everywhere in Brazil and Portugal to take Taylor’s spot or found some loophole in his contract to send him packing.
Taylor did actually play in the Primeira Liga, and if one thinks that is no different that playing in MLS, then one can try to rationalize that mentality.
Finally, Lamar Neagle has demonstrated a much higher capacity to play international soccer than both Jack McInerney and Will Bruin. The caliber of Neagle’s goals this year and his ability to free himself to take shots on goal and score is well-beyond anything Bruin or McInerney have shown.
On paper, both players look like two of the best MLS forwards, but the way that Neagle plays and the more advanced display of individual skill will translate much better to the international game. McInerney is fast but small, but he doesn’t have the 1v1 dribbling ability or trickery needed to outfox international defenders who are fast and used to dealing with more gifted dribblers.
Bruin and McInerney might be fine for the competition in the first round of the Gold Cup, but one of the purposes of this tournament was to initiate people who can break into the senior team. Neagle at least presents the size, speed, and skill to be internationally competitive, certainly more than Wondolowski has shown when given the chance to play international soccer.