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Copa America Centenario: United States squad thoughts and more

The Yanks kick off CA against Colombia on Friday.

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

When Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23 man roster for the 100th anniversary Copa America tournament on the 21st, the dulcet tones of roster complaints provided the traditional accompaniment for said announcements. Some of this died down when Timmy Chandler was replaced by Edgar Castillo due to injury, but the noise remained for Michael Orozco, Chris Wondolowski, Graham Zusi, and to a lesser extent, Kyle Beckerman. As we near the completion of the 5th year of the Klinsmann era, it seems like a good time to explore his history as it pertains to his roster selection and try to read the tea leaves.

The Players:

Since his first game in charge (a 1-1 draw with Mexico following Bob Bradley's defeat in the 2011 Gold Cup final), Klinsmann has capped a total of 95 players. Of those, 48 players came from the two previous regimes, with Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Clint Dempsey, Kyle Beckerman, Edgar Castillo, Geoff Cameron, Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones, and Chris Wondolowski as the holdovers making the Copa America roster. Of those 9, only the two keepers and Dempsey are holdovers from the 2010 World Cup. Wondolowski most likely replaced a 4th hold over from World Cup 2010, Jozy Altidore, but this still demonstrates to a degree the turnover since Klinsmann took charge.

If Ethan Horvath finds his way into the lineup at any point during Copa America, exactly half of the 96 players capped by Klinsmann will have received their first cap while he was coach. Here's some facts and figures on those 47.

  • 23 of the 47 had previous experience in the US Youth National Teams
  • Of the remaining 24, 9 were dual nationals who had to make a 'one-time switch' because they played for youth national teams representing other countries.
  • Of the remaining 15, 4 are confirmed as eligible to represent more than 1 country. Ventura Alvarado and Darlington Nagbe are now cap-tied to the US. AJ De la Garza is now cap-tied to Guam.
  • Of the remaining 11, only Miguel Ibarra and Alan Gordon received their first call up outside of January Camp.
  • Of the remaining 11, no one without a last name starting with 'Z' has more than 5 caps. Only Zusi and Gyasi Zardes have earned more than 5.

I bring these points up to demonstrate the rarity of players establishing themselves within the team outside of the pedigree held by dual nationals and former youth national team members (about 5%). These numbers numbers also show that without these pedigrees, you have a slim chance of making your debut outside of the January camp in the Klinsmann era (also about 5%). Back in January, it seemed a little concerning to me that the camp wasn't loaded up with fringe players, and that maybe it was a sign Klinsmann was on a tighter leash. If that's the case, then the head scratchers on the roster suddenly make a lot more sense.

Three of the four players I mentioned are World Cup veterans and Klinsmann certainly did not downgrade them for the experience. In the case of Wondolowski, he probably doesn't make the roster without the injury to Altidore. He beats out Jordan Morris because he's been more prolific in MLS so far this year and he's got big tournament experience. I'm a bigger fan of Morris, but I can see why Klinsmann goes this route if he's under pressure. Zusi's form hasn't been great, but the combination of a scarcity of wide players and experience keep him in the mix.

In Beckerman and Orozco, here's where trust is the real trump card in selection. Beckerman hasn't been great this year for Real Salt Lake, and outside a good game in Columbus in Guatemala, his form for the US in the last year has ranged from 'meh' to I'm not even going to go there. He doesn't even have the versatility to play multiple positions like Orozco, whose USMNT performances have looked much the same, and who only recently forced his way back into the team at Tijuana.

Both players were holdovers from the Bradley era and both were players that Klinsmann had scoped out before he took charge of the program. Both started Klinsmann's first game in charge and have never completely fallen out of the pecking order during his time in charge. Every coach, fan, and pundit has his favorites, and Beckerman and Orozco are clearly two of Klinsmann's. With favored status comes confirmation bias and willingness to ignore warts, and it isn't like these players have never delivered the goods within the constraints of a game. That said, the most important thing (Beckerman nails it on the head here) to read into Beckerman and Orozco's inclusion is that he trusts them, and if the frying pan is even a tiny bit hot for Klinsmann at the moment, it shouldn't surprise you that they made the roster while in-form players like Sacha Kjlestan and CJ Sapong aren't even on the radar.

Speaking of Klinsmann's peculiar tastes:

One thing that has been almost universally panned about the Klinsmann era by fans and pundits alike is his insistence in playing Michael Bradley as a "#10" frequently. Never mind the fact he doesn't really function as a dedicated playmaker in that sense, the product of positioning him that high seldom seems to be comfortable for him and even more rarely produces a pretty end product. What it gains in adding defensive pressure further up the field, it doesn't take advantage of Bradley's vision and ability to pick out longer passes.

Since the beginning of the 2nd half of the Ecuador game, we've gotten a taste of what Bradley looks in a deeper position, and it's awesome. Not only does the deeper position leverage the aforementioned abilities, it also provides an upgrade in protection for a back 4 that hasn't played together much. Alejandro Bedoya was excellent in providing two assists in the Bolivia match, and Darlington Nagbe in 45 minutes after substituting for Beckerman hit on 33 of 33 passes while scoring the game winner against Ecuador. Klinsmann was quick to praise, but also alluded to perceived defensive shortcomings from his young playmaker.

Reading between the lines, the Nagbe-Jones-Bradley midfield probably isn't something we see right off the bat. That doesn't necessarily mean we'll see Bradley (again) in a more advanced position, but I'm betting of Nagbe and Bedoya, we see the latter start the tournament as he offers enough on the defensive end to humor Klinsmann's need for bona fide 2 way play from his '#10'. Maybe this will mark the birth of Klinsmann's 'proactive' style promised when he was hired in 2011. If so, it won't be a moment too soon.


I will be patient with Christian Pulisic.

I will be patient with Christian Pulisic.

I will be patient with Christian Pulisic.

I will be patient with Christian Pulisic.

I will be patient with Christian Pulisic....

Predicted XI vs. Colombia

Feedback is welcome below. Negative comments are encouraged always.