[Editor’s Note]: Yanks At Home is a new semi-regular series focusing on members of the U.S. MNT as they do battle domestically for their respective MLS clubs. We’ll be covering matches live from the press box and conducting interviews with players in anticipation of the Gold Cup, fall qualifiers, and the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Got an idea for a feature? Hit us up at editorial[at]yanksarecoming.com.
United States head coach Bruce Arena will commence the first Gold Cup camp of his second tenure with the Yanks on Sunday in Nashville. He will be tasked with trimming down his preliminary roster of 40 players to 23 by Tuesday, June 27 with a friendly set for four days later against Ghana. Of the players currently in the mix for Arena, four took to the pitch Saturday evening in a matchup between LA Galaxy and Sporting KC.
Matt Besler helped his Gold Cup cause in Sporting KC’s 2-1 victory by assisting on Ike Opara’s goal with a well-timed through ball following a set piece situation. Besler spearheaded a capable defensive front in concert with Opara and Graham Zusi, who mitigated foul-inducing play with timely crosses to fuel Sporting KC’s offensive attack. Looking to the forward position, Dominic Dwyer offered flashes of brilliance that were far too often muted by head scratching play. Dwyer regularly found himself offsides or failing to capitalize on a goal-scoring opportunity due to poor body control or positioning.
On the other side of the pitch, Gyasi Zardes’ efforts to create chances for his teammates early on in the match were quickly stunted by Sporting KC defenders. Zardes’ play soon deteriorated midway through first half as he fell victim to poor first touch, questionable decision-making and shying away from the ball during LA’s counterattack. Already an underdog to make the final Gold Cup roster, Zardes did little in the way of silencing his critics as his mental lapses suggest a continued reacquaintance to the nuances of the game post injury.
Let’s take a look at the Gold Cup cases for each of these players as they board the plane to Nashville on Sunday.
40-player Preliminary 2017 Gold Cup Roster
Matt Besler (Sporting KC)
Most recently called to camp in May, Besler was released from duty prior to the U.S.’s friendly against Venezuela when Sporting KC found itself in need of able bodies. A quick call to Arena by Sporting KC’s Peter Vermes led to Besler notching an assist in a 3-0 victory over Minnesota United. Besler returned to the Yanks in Mexico City where he dressed for the match but served only as a spectator. The 30-year-old Notre Dame product remains a top contender for the final roster given the hints Arena dropped earlier in the month when discussing the likelihood of regulars participating in the Gold Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann left Besler off the 2015 Gold Cup roster in favor of John Brooks and Tim Ream and did not call upon the Sporting KC captain when roster changes were made after the conclusion of group play. Even with his fate uncertain, Besler remains excited about the U.S. MNT’s prospects in competition and hopes to contribute significant minutes for Arena.
“It’s a tournament that we feel like we can win and I’m excited to get started,” said Besler. “I hope I play a big role, but there are no guarantees. I’m going into the camp hoping to train well and play well, and we’ll see what happens from there.”
Dominic Dwyer (Sporting KC)
The opportunity for Dwyer to join the U.S. MNT in Nashville became a reality in March when the 26-year-old forward became a United States citizen. With his newly-minted eligibility, Dwyer presents the right blend of physicality and goal-scoring ability that should have Arena eager to unleash without the likes of Christian Pulisic or Jozy Altidore at his disposal. The sixth-year man out of South Florida has found the net 57 times over the course of his MLS career and demonstrated a knack for defensive play uncommon for a scorer of his ability. There’s still a rawness to his game exacerbated by lapses in mental judgment, but there’s no denying his value of putting points on the board. Look for Dwyer to make Arena’s final roster and see time as a starter come July.
Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Injuries have become far too common of a narrative for Zardes after establishing himself as a weapon for Klinsmann with five goals for the United States between 2015 and 2016. A strong performance for both club and country in the summer of 2016 came to a premature conclusion when a fractured foot took Zardes out of competition until Arena tapped him for the MLS-only camp in January. Mere days back on the pitch, Zardes succumbed to a knee injury that’s claimed the preseason and first month of the MLS season. Fast forward 11 matches later and Zardes still hasn’t found the back of the net since late August of 2016. The forward would benefit greatly from Arena taking a chance on him rekindling his past play, but it’s unlikely the CSU Bakersfield star has shown enough this spring to warrant the head coach’s trust. His efforts against Sporting KC reinforced the notion that he’s still not completely back after two serious injuries and needs more time to recalibrate himself mentally for the subtitles of the game.
Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
The veteran midfielder-turned-right back served as an injury replacement for Fabian Johnson during March’s World Cup qualifiers and used the opportunity to secure a roster spot for May camp. Zusi earned his 48th cap with the United States in the 1-1 draw against Mexico, but only as the clock wound down in stoppage time. He experienced a similar fate earlier in the month in a friendly against Venezuela, which was proceeded by a stint on the bench for the Yanks’ match against Trinidad and Tobago. More consistent playing time with the MNT should be in order for the former Terrapin as he’s been a catalyst for Sporting KC in the four matches since his return with his ability to create chances and as a set-piece specialist readily on display. While Zusi may not fit the young or non-regular mold of how Arena wants to construct his roster, he’s not verbose about his goals of making the final cut.
“Of course,” said Zusi. “That’s always the plan.”
On the outside looking in…
Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC)
Feilhaber, a stalwart under Bob Bradley during the 2010 World Cup cycle, became an afterthought for the United States when Jurgen Klinsmann took the reins in 2011. A strained dynamic stunted Feilhaber’s role with the Yanks and reached a boiling point in January 2016 when both men took to the media to share their disdain for each other. The German’s dismissal last fall ushered in a welcomed second chance for the midfielder as Arena called Feilhaber into January camp – his first with the national team since 2014. Feilhaber seized the opportunity and demonstrated a return to form that rewarded Arena for betting on the veteran. Arena elected to leave Feilhaber off the roster for both March and May camp and did not include him in the preliminary roster for the Gold Cup. It’s likely tonight’s injury suffered during the second half in Carson will preclude Feilhaber’s involvement when roster changes may be made during the knockout stage.
There may not be the next Pulisic waiting to be discovered if given the chance to play in the Gold Cup, but Arena has viable options coming from abroad, and more significantly than ever, domestically.
“Anytime that you get to come together as a national team, it’s always fun to play with those guys especially if there are new faces on the squad,” said Besler. “You face some of these guys week in, week out in the MLS, but it’s nice to be on the same side as them and see who they are both as a person and as a player.”
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