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The Curious Case of Kelyn Rowe and Five Other Gold Cup Thoughts

Bruce Arena sent one his best players from the group stage home and called up six regular starters...but why?

Venezuela v United States Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

I am confused. Let me rephrase...I’m usually confused, but right now I’m more confused than usual.

You see, I think I’m having a flashback to a different U.S. Men’s National Team head coach, the one that said one thing but did something else. And it’s annoying the hell out of me.

Bruce Arena has said he’s using the Gold Cup to evaluate players, yet he just sent home two Group Stage standouts in Kelyn Rowe and Dom Dwyer and called in six regular starters. In my opinion, Bruce Arena is no longer trying to evaluate talent, he’s now trying to win. If that’s the case, fine, but we should still be questioning Arena’s roster choices.

Consider this, we live in a world where Arena thinks Gyasi Zardes can help the USMNT win a Gold Cup and Kelyn Rowe can’t. That’s absurd and I’m not the only one who thinks this...

Okay that last one was probably unnecessary but I apologize for nothing.

Seriously, Bruce Arena just sent home arguably his three best creative midfielders and hasn’t replaced them on the roster. This normally wouldn’t be that big of a deal except Christian Pulisic isn’t walking through that door. The USA had a major problem at the #10 position that Rowe and others were able to largely overcome against mostly bad competition.

Alejandro Bedoya was a known roster move since he was leaving for the birth of this child (congrats to the Bedoya family for that) and Cristian Roldan didn’t make that much of an impression. Those two moves were understandable. You could even talk me into sending Dwyer home since Jozy Altidore is likely going to start the three Knockout Stage games and play a majority of the minutes with Jordan Morris and Juan Agudelo coming off the bench.

But I’m still going to come back to the Rowe-Zardes thing, because we currently live in a world where Bruce rates Zardes higher than Rowe. Because remember, Arena is no longer evaluating talent with this roster, he’s trying to win the Gold Cup. If he were evaluating talent, he’d find a way to see how guys like Dwyer and Rowe played with more of the senior guys on the roster.

Since he’s not doing that, I’m left to conclude one of two scenarios:

A) The New England Revolution asked/begged for Rowe back.

B) Zardes is actually better than Rowe.

The second option is illogical based on what everyone has seen during the past two weeks. I know that if anyone can get Zardes to find his past form again it would be Bruce, as he got the best out of Gyasi a few years ago on a much better LA Galaxy team. But it still bothers me that the US bench will seem desperately short on attacking options in the middle of the field without Rowe and Bedoya.

Joe Corona scored a goal against Nicaragua but didn’t have a great tournament playing as a CAM. Zardes’ first touch still lets him down but we know he has pace. What Rowe brings to the table, and for that matter Agudelo, is the ability to drive at defenders while holding the ball. The USMNT struggled to do this in the Group Stage at times and you could tell because the offense was often disjointed. Two of the US goals from set pieces were set up by Rowe and Agudelo drawing fouls by, wait for it, actually trying to take on a defender.

So, what’s going to be missing now that Rowe has been sent home? Consider this clip to be a reminder.

I wanted to see Rowe as the central attacking mid but instead we got to see him put two great shifts in at left mid/wing where he was arguably the best player on the field for the USA in their third Group Stage match. Since I can logically conclude that Bruce Arena is trying to win the Gold Cup with his roster additions, I have no logical explanation for how Kelyn Rowe doesn’t improve his roster.

If there’s no minutes for Rowe or Dwyer with the additions of Altidore, Clint Dempesy and Darlington Nagbe on the roster, just where is Zardes going to get minutes? I’d rather sub in Agudelo or Morris on the flanks as a winger or as a pure striker ahead of Zardes. Gyasi arguably only plays one position while Rowe plays about four on both sides of the field.

Now, I’ve intentionally not mentioned Chris Pontius up to this point because I believe he has a place on the roster as a role player. Pontius was stellar as an aerial threat. As a defensive player, Pontius is better than both Rowe and Zardes, so I have no problem with him staying on the Gold Cup roster. I’m specifically comparing Rowe and Zardes because they played the same position during the Gold Cup and only one of them was good.

I will, however, trust the opinion of “The Shin Guardian” and others on this matter:

I trust Bruce Arena far more than his predecessor, however I don’t need the double speak from Bruce. I didn’t tolerate it when Klinsmann said it and I’m not going to tolerate it here. Bruce can talk about evaluating players all he wants and that the Gold Cup results don’t matter but his actions say otherwise. Also, sending players home mid-tournament at the end of the day only sends the following message - you’re not good enough and I don’t need you to win.

Bruce Arena is now in a position where I think he has to win the Gold Cup. His roster moves have dictated this because now the United States is the best team in the tournament. If Arena wants to have Zardes, a one-dimensional player, on his bench over Rowe, a creative utility player, that’s his decision. I hope it doesn’t come back to bite him down the road. Because you can bet I have a scheduled tweet prepared for late in the game when Arena looks for an attacking option on his bench because his team is tied or down a goal...

And realizes Kelyn Rowe is in New England.


1 - More on why the United States are now the favorites

In a tournament where no team has stood out or impressed all that much, the USA brought in major reinforcements to become the Gold Cup favorites. Whether or not you agree with this is understandable but that’s the standard the US should have anyway. Mexico is the best team until proven otherwise but Mexico is still playing with their “B” team right now. Other “A” teams like Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras have been mostly unspectacular, but someone has to win this thing.

Assuming the USA gets past El Salvador in the Quarterfinals, they’ll play the winner of Costa Rica-Panama which will be their toughest match of the tournament by a lot. The USA was average against Panama in the Group Stage with neither team taking a ton of risks. The “A” team can’t afford to be average in the Semifinals but they’ll have one game against a middling opponent to figure things out.

2 - The USA were fine in the group stage, and that’s okay.

I think it’s fair to say that we expected a little more out of the USMNT than we got in the Group Stage. They were largely unimpressive against Panama, let Martinique back into the game despite being up two goals and took a long time to break down Nicaragua. Even with a “B” team, the standards for the US are high but we should give the team credit for getting the job done and winning the group.

Defensively I think the US were largely solid, aside form that ten minute stretch against Martinique that sent Brad Guzan home. The 2015 Gold Cup was pants and deserves to be remembered as such. If the 2017 USMNT Group Stage was generally uninspiring and/or bland but Bruce Arena is doing alright at this coaching thing.

Bruce doesn’t need style points, he’s just trying to qualify for the World Cup. Klinsmann did need style points because he was trying to turn us into a Top 10 team in the world. No, this isn’t being hypocritical in my opinion, these are the two goals both men have stated they’re trying to accomplish. No, I’m not happy with Bruce dumping Rowe off the roster but despite that Arena is getting results even if we think the quality of play isn’t always there. That being said, the USA still needs to lift a trophy next week.

3 - Bill Hamid may have clinched the USMNT 3rd Keeper spot

Bill Hamid probably should be one of the three US goalkeepers already on the roster were it not for a rash of injuries that have held him back so many times throughout his career. But Hamid is a legit shot-stopper and the Tim Howard/Guzan era is surely coming to a close soon after Russia 2018. Or possibly sooner in Guzan’s case...

Hamid joins Jesse Gonzalez, Ethan Horvath and a host of other young prospects on the goalkeeping depth chart but he seems to have separated himself during this tournament. It’s been a long time coming for Hamid who thoroughly deserves a qualifying or outright World Cup spot if and when it happens. Let’s hope he’s around for a few more World Cup cycles as well.

4 - MLS/NASL/USL should sign Nicaragua GK Justo Lorente

I want this on the record again.

Lorente was stellar against the United States and the 23-year old keeper already has a ton of international experience. I don’t care how dreadful those two US penalties were, they still have to be saved and they were. Lorente got steamrolled by Jordan Morris late in the match as the Nicaraguan keeper came off his line to punch out a clearance so he’s got plenty of stones.

Lorente currently plays for Nicaraguan club giants Real Esteli FC but I think there are a lot of teams in the US who could do a lot worse at keeper than a guy who made two PK saves in one Gold Cup game. Just a thought...also, this is a good Wikipedia entry.

5 - Canada’s Big Chance

I don’t want Canada to be proud of the fact that it made the Gold Cup Knockout Stages for the first time since 2009. I don’t want Canada to sit back and play defense against a Jamaica team that didn’t score an open play goal against El Salvador or Mexico. I want Canada to play like 2017 Canada, where Alphonso Davies wrecks everyone and playing Honduras doesn’t cause national shame.

Canada is a Top 10 CONCACAF team almost by default, but you wouldn’t know it from the past few years of results. Canada making the Quarterfinals should not be surprising. Canada competing in a Gold Cup Semifinal should be the expectation and the norm. It’s just for the first time in a long time, they actually have a chance to prove everyone right.