Arena won't learn more about U.S. player pool by calling in reinforcements

Arena won't learn more about U.S. player pool by calling in reinforcements
From ESPN - July 16, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- From the outset of this Gold Cup, it was the plan of U.S men's national team manager Bruce Arena to add six players to his roster at the conclusion of the group stage. The tournament rules allow it, and Arena took full advantage.

All of which seems kind of a shame.

The U.S. manager has brought in the Toronto FC duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. He's also added Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe, Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard and FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.

The infusion of experience is considerable. Out of those six, four of them -- Bradley, Altidore, Dempsey and Howard -- have more than 100 caps apiece. Nagbe has been a steady presence for the U.S. throughout 2017. Only Gonzalez, who just recently had his one-time switch of affiliation from Mexico to the U.S. approved by FIFA, can be considered a prospect.

The unlucky six who were sent back to their clubs were really an unlucky three. Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and his wife Beatrice are expecting their second child this week, so his departure was long planned. It was also understood that goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson would be sent back to Atlanta United and New York City FC, respectively. That left Kelyn Rowe, Cristian Roldan and Dom Dwyer to be sent home.

It's peculiar in that Rowe and Dwyer have shown well over the course of the past three weeks, with each player scoring a goal and contributing to the attack in other ways. Roldan's situation is easier to understand, as he had his moments of struggle against Martinique, though he did take good care of the ball. But for these three players, it's clear that their playing time would have been severely limited going forward, considering who was called up. That is true especially for Dwyer given that Dempsey and Altidore will chew up the bulk of the forward minutes, while Juan Agudelo and Jordan Morris have the ability to play out wide if needed.

"All of [the decisions] are difficult because all of the players did well," Arena told reporters. "I thought Dom, Cristian and Kelyn did very well, and I told them that. They are players that we are obviously going to continue to keep an eye on, and continue to obviously have them in the program."

He added, "It's a difficult tournament, and when you play so many less experienced and younger players together, it's difficult. It's not easy. Probably the perfect way to do that is to mix in more veteran players. But we wanted to give everyone an opportunity, and that's the way we decided to do it, and I think they came through with passing grades, all of them."

It's an odd rule to be sure, one that I ca not recall being replicated anywhere else in the world. Given how crowded the international calendar tends to get in the summer, as well as the fact that MLS shuts down for only the group stage, it's understandable that CONCACAF would want to allow some flexibility to teams in order to get the best players on display. But at the same time, it seems to undermine the integrity of the competition by allowing such drastic changes.

To be clear, the U.S. is not doing anything wrong here, but it still seems unfortunate, in a way, for Arena to bring in reinforcements, and not just for the players sent home. With essentially five starters added, it's almost as if a different team will take the field for Wednesday's quarterfinal, and playing time will be much harder to come by for those group-stage players who remain.


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