It’s Cristian Roldan’s big chance.
Roldan, the Seattle Sounders’ third-year midfielder, is one of 23 players called in by U.S. men’s national team coach Bruce Arena for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. It’s his first selection to the senior team, and the 22-year-old hopes to use the Gold Cup as showcase for his skills.
Past regional championships gave then-fringe players like Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley and Stuart Holden their chance. With many of the national team mainstays given a break for this tournament, this is the time to impress.
“I don’t think I have to make that point to them, I think they’re well aware of that,” Arena said Monday after the team’s first practice at Lipscomb University. “A lot of things can happen coming out of the Gold Cup, especially when the World Cup is a year away. So this is an important tournament for the players.”
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The U.S. plays Ghana in an exhibition Saturday in Hartford, Connecticut. It begins the Gold Cup in Nashville on July 8. World Cup qualifying resumes Sept. 1 against Costa Rica.
Teams advancing to the knockout stage can change six players, but the pool is limited to those on the 40-man roster. The group of possibilities includes Dempsey, Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley and forward Jozy Altidore and Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe.
Thirteen players on the roster have eight or fewer international appearances. Four have been invited for the first time: Roldan, Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer and midfielders Kenny Saief of the Belgian club Gent and Kelyn Rowe of New England.
“It was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see some of these players, so it’s been a good day for us,” said Arena, who confessed he was unsure of how to pronounce Saief’s last name. “They need to know me, I need to know them. And we have to piece it all together in a short period of time.”
Roldan has played every minute for the Sounders so far this season, recording two goals and two assists, after making 55 appearances across his first two MLS seasons. The California native spent two standout seasons at the University of Washington after a decorated high school career in which he was named the 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year with 54 goals and 31 assists in his senior season.
Sounders forward Jordan Morris is also on the roster.
Morris, 22, has 15 caps, including five appearances so far in 2017. The Mercer Island native scored his second international goal in a 1-0 friendly win over Jamaica in February, following his first goal against Mexico on April 15, 2015. He has two goals in 15 appearances so far in 2017 MLS regular season action after recording 14 goals in his first professional campaign last year (including postseason), earning MLS Rookie of the Year honors.
The Gold Cup roster includes some interesting players. Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes has played 31 games for the national team, but has been out of the mix for about a year.
“I’m highly motivated to showcase myself because it’s been a while,” said Zardes, who has scored seven goals for the U.S. “I’m cognizant of our goal in hand, which is to win the Gold Cup.
“But also for myself, I want to try to produce each and every single day because I’m trying to get back into the national team and trying to be a regular on this team.”
Defender Eric Lichaj has played sparingly for the national team despite a decade-long career in England, most recently with Nottingham Forest.
“It’s something I’m really proud of to do, to wear the crest,” Lichaj said. “So I’m just going to do my hardest and it’s an opportunity for everybody that’s in the squad to stake their claim for a World Cup spot in a year’s time.”
Lichaj says he has worked hard to keep himself in the national team picture. And he finds nothing awkward about competing with teammates all angling for the same thing – a World Cup spot.
“That’s every team that you play for,” he said. “In your club there’s always competition for a spot, and all the guys know that. So if you’re not on your A-game I don’t think you'll be playing many games.”
U.S. MEN’S GOLD CUP ROSTER
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta), Bill Hamid (D.C.), Sean Johnson (New York City)
Defenders: Matt Besler (Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Mexico), Matt Hedges (Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, England), Matt Miazga (Chelsea, England), Justin Morrow (Toronto), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna, Mexico), Graham Zusi (Kansas City)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Dallas), Paul Arriola (Tijuana, Mexico), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia), Joe Corona (Tijuana, Mexico), Dax McCarty (Chicago), Cristian Roldan (Seattle), Kelyn Rowe (New England), Kenny Saief (Gent, Belgium), Gyasi Zardes (LA)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England), Dom Dwyer (Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle)