The Copa America Centenario has come and gone, so now it’s time to evaluate the United States’ 4th place finish in the tournament and what it means for the future. After all, the international game doesn’t stop for very long with the 2018 World Cup looming. First though, let’s see how the US National Team performed during this tournament.
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan B+, Tim Howard B, Ethan Horvath A
Guzan was the starter for the entire tournament, playing every minute before giving way to Howard for the 3rd place match. He had 2 really good matches against Costa Rica and Paraguay, a decent match against Colombia, and a below average appearance against Argentina. Other than the opening goal against Argentina, most of the goals were not his fault. His distribution is the weakest portion of his game, but didn’t hinder his performance.
Timmy Howard was back in between the sticks for the 3rd place game. He played pretty well, but also didn’t have much to do. He got caught in no-mans land for the goal, and almost got hit for another on a chipped ball that hit the bar. But he has gracefully accepted the #2 role, something that deserves praise.
Ethan Horvath was here to get a taste of the international game at the senior level. The only thing that could have been better for him would have been to get some garbage time minutes. His future is very bright for the USMNT.
Don’t be surprised if these are the same three on the plane to Russia in 2018.
Defenders: John Brooks A, Geoff Cameron B, Matt Besler B+, DeAndre Yedlin B-, Michael Orozco C, Steve Birnbaum C-, Fabian Johnson B+, Edgar Castillo C
The biggest winner of the tournament was John Brooks. He established himself as the surefire #1 CB option for the US going forward. He had a great tournament, absolutely owning the back line. The injury stuff is a little worrisome, but shouldn’t detract from the outstanding tournament he played.
Just behind Brooks’ in terms of performance and stock were Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, and Fabian Johnson. Fabian flexed his versatility muscle by playing both sides and every minute of the tournament. Besler actually surprised a lot of people by making a start at LB and looking competent. Cameron moved up into the midfield for a few minutes as well. All three players could have done a few things better here or there, but definitely upped their stock by showing their versatility. Especially Besler, proving he can cover both CB and LB.
Yedlin, Orozco, and Birnbaum each had slap-your-head moments that really hurt their performance. Yedlin got two yellows back-to-back which led to a suspension. Orozco got hot-headed and earned a red card in the 3rd place match. Birnbaum just got absolutely owned for a goal in the Argentina match. Castillo didn’t get any minutes, despite being the only true LB on the roster.
Brooks, Yedlin, and Johnson are almost definitely going to be in Russia. Cameron and Besler upped their chances of sticking around through the next World Cup. Birnbaum is still a hit or miss prospect, while Orozco and Castillo aren’t likely to be around much longer.
Midfield: Michael Bradley C+, Darlington Nagbe B, Alejandro Bedoya A-, Jermaine Jones B-, Kyle Beckerman D+, Perry Kitchen B, Graham Zusi B+, Christian Pulisic A
The midfield had an up and down tournament, starting with the captain Michael Bradley. He had a horrid opener, before recovering with decent performances, and finally playing hurt in the 3rd place match. He just didn’t look sharp at any point in the tournament. Jermaine Jones played really well, but let himself get caught up in a petty confrontation that got him straight red and a suspension. Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi proved they are still effective in their respective roles, playing very hard and making life tough for the opposition.
Kyle Beckerman’s age is beginning to show, just being outrun and outclassed. The two newcomers in Pulisic and Nagbe each got some important cameos that gave them a taste of the international level. Jurgen Klinsmann made sure not to throw them off the deep end, instead bringing them along slowly. That is probably the best plan for Pulisic, although the games were pleading for Nagbe, who is in his mid-20s and less likely to buckle under the pressure. Perry Kitchen didn’t play a single minute, but being in this arena is something that can launch a young player’s career to new heights.
Moving forward, there are quite a few options for the midfield. Bradley will likely continue wearing the captain’s armband through Russia, with Bedoya likely to be joining him. That is as certain as it gets however. Jones is still playing great, but is 34 years old. Pulisic seems on the right track for stardom, but we shouldn’t let the hype overtake him. Nagbe and Kitchen are excellent prospects just getting started with the National Team. Zusi will be interesting to watch, if he continues receiving call ups or gets transitioned out. Beckerman will likely be on his way out after this tournament.
Forwards: Bobby Wood A-, Clint Dempsey A-, Gyasi Zardes B, Chris Wondolowski F
It might be odd to see the attackers get such good grades, but they did earn them. Bobby Wood might have just established himself as THE starter at forward with his performances and move up the Bundesliga. He was very dangerous all tournament, proving he belongs. The one knock on him was getting some dumb yellows that led to a suspension for the critical semifinal.
Clint Dempsey put the doubters to rest this tournament. 3 goals and 3 assists, even if accidental, will do that. Sure, he disappears for large portions of matches, but when he shows up, make sure the camera is on. His pairing with Bobby Wood really let him flow freely and be creative.
Gyasi Zardes had a pretty good tournament. The physical aspects and his work ethic are unquestionable, but his skills are still lacking. His first touch is still absolute rubbish, and his finishing is awful. But he put in some great work and put himself into position for the goal he did score from 4 inches away.
Speaking of scoring from inches away, Chris Wondolowski. It was bad, so bad. He didn’t have any chances to royally screw up, and he still managed to play some of the worst football ever. The foul on Messi that set up his picture perfect free kick strike was pretty much the summation of his international career.
It is time to put Wondo out to pasture, his career painfully elongated by injuries to other strikers. Wood just took the starting role and said “come and take it” to everyone else in the player pool. Zardes is looking exciting, but has to work on his skills to make the next step. Wood and Zardes are solid bets to be in Russia, while Wondo is an almost sure bet NOT to be. Dempsey is a question all his own. He is still productive now at 33, but will that last for 2 more years? Deuce for now though is still solidly in the picture for Russia 2018.
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann B+
Klinsmann stated before the tournament that a semifinals appearance was the goal for the tournament, and he did achieve that goal. The team even won the group, which was a bit of a shocker considering the first result. There was talk that Klinsmann might be sacked if the team didn’t advance to the knockout stage, but those rumors are in the trash now.
It is likely that Klinsmann’s job is now safe through 2018, provided they qualify for the World Cup of course. If he doesn’t do that, he would be gone regardless. But since this is likely to be his last go round with the USMNT anyways, he is sitting in a pretty good spot.