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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup

Klinsmann's Wondolowski, Guzan decisions mark U.S. Copa roster

If any one roster decision made by Jurgen Klinsmann underscores the United States national team coach's approach to next month's Copa America Centenario, it was Chris Wondolowski over Jordan Morris at striker.

On the final 23-man squad Klinsmann named Saturday afternoon was 32-year-old San Jose Earthquakes forward and World Cup veteran Wondolowski. Omitted, rather surprisingly, was Seattle Sounders rookie Morris. The 21-year-old had seemed like a lock for the roster even before Jozy Altidore was ruled out of the tournament earlier this week because of a hamstring injury.

Morris had been a regular since making his U.S. debut as a Stanford University sophomore in 2014, and there is no doubt that he would have benefited from the experience. But in what is expected to be a fast, physical, aggressive tournament, Klinsmann gave the benefit of the doubt and the last forward spot to the older, more experienced player -- one who just happens to be the top American scorer in MLS.

"This roster really was put together based on what we saw over the last year, and it's one that makes us the strongest team possible to compete in Copa America and to hopefully surprise a lot of people," Klinsmann said in a statement.

"We believe that players really played their way into that roster, and it's difficult. There are some situations that probably the fans will now discuss. Why not Jordan Morris and Wondo is in there? Well, because Wondo proves all the time that he's just is so hungry for goals, and Jordan is on his way through the ranks coming up."

There were other minor surprises, too. Defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen, who moved from D.C. United to Scottish Premier League team Hearts earlier this year, made the final 23. So did German-American right back Timmy Chandler, who returns to the fold for the first time since last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Chris Wondolowski had a goal and an assist in the Americans' win.
Chris Wondolowski's experience and goal rate were key factors in Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to opt for the San Jose Earthquakes forward.

But there was no place for veteran central defender Omar Gonzalez of Pachuca. Another Mexican-based defender, Monterrey's Edgar Castillo, didn't make it despite starting the Americans' two most recent World Cup qualifying games at right back and helping his club team to the Liga MX semifinals.

But by far the biggest news of the day was Klinsmann's decision to pick Brad Guzan over Brazil 2014 hero Tim Howard as the Americans' starter in goal. Guzan lost his place at Aston Villa toward the end of the Premier League season, but Klinsmann said that he earned the nod based on a larger body of work.

"We go into the tournament with Brad Guzan being the No. 1," Klinsmann said. "Brad, throughout the last two years, played very consistently and very solid with us."

Klinsmann suggested that the break Howard took from the national team after Brazil 2014 hurt him: "[Tim] wasn't with us for a year after the World Cup, and he also lost his starting spot the last half of the year with Everton, so we think that in that moment, Brad has a little bit of an edge and deserves it." 

While Klinsmann is going with a battle-tested group, it's not like his roster is devoid of promising youngsters. Christian Pulisic, the 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund prodigy, is there as expected. And the coach broke recent tradition by taking 20-year-old backstop Ethan Horvath as his third keeper behind Guzan and Howard. The U.S. has typically favored an older player for the third-string role in major tournaments; Nick Rimando went to Brazil two years ago, while Marcus Hahnemann occupied the role at the 2010 and 2006 World Cups.

"Obviously we now left out Nick Rimando, who we admire a lot," Klinsmann said. "We brought in Ethan Horvath as a third goalkeeper to build him for the future, to learn from Tim Howard and Brad Guzan but also to get his first taste of what such a tournament means."

What the tournament means to the Americans is clear. After a dismal 2015 that included a fourth-place Gold Cup finish and a loss to archrival Mexico in the Confederations Cup playoff, they have to perform well.

Klinsmann's job could be on the line if the hosts falter this summer, which is why he can't look too far into the future. If he wants to have one, the Americans have to win here and now.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.


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