Cade Cowell's chance to shine and the forgotten forwards: Nine things to watch as the USMNT go for Gold Cup glory

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Though the majority of the team's biggest stars have been given the tournament off, the Stars and Stripes will still be among the favourites

We're just days removed from the United States men's national team's Nations League triumph and two dominant wins over Mexico and Canada. Several USMNT stars will likely still be washing away the champagne smell and, yet, here we are, looking ahead to the next summer tournament.

Just six days after finishing off the Nations League in Las Vegas, the U.S. will kickstart the Gold Cup in Chicago. There's no rest during a CONCACAF summer, that's for sure. Still, the USMNT set to compete in this second summer tournament will be very different than the one that won the first. Gone are the likes of Christian Pulisic, Folarin Balogun and Weston McKennie, as this roster has just five holdovers from the Nations League team.

In place of the established stars, interim coach B.J. Callaghan is taking charge of a squad filled with young upstarts and veterans looking for one last push. From two-time World Cup veteran DeAndre Yedlin to teenagers like Cade Cowell, there's an interesting mix.

That mix, though, still could be good enough to win the Gold Cup, but it will be a challenge, much as it was in 2021 when the U.S. pulled off their first CONCACAF double. Doing so again will require several players to take leaps forward, although there are plenty capable of using this tournament as a springboard to bigger and better things.

With that said, here's a look at what to watch out for with the USMNT at the Gold Cup:

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  1. Turner (and Slonina) in goal

    Turner (and Slonina) in goal

    The goalkeeper position is perhaps the most interesting one on the field for the U.S., as the goalkeeper of the present and the goalkeeper of the future have both been named to the squad.

    Matt Turner is sticking with the team after the Nations League triumph, and he likely isn't sticking around to sit on the bench. He is the USMNT's No.1, after all, and all signs point to him being starter for the meaningful games in this tournament.

    Still, it will be interesting to see if Gabriel Slonina gets any minutes, as the Chelsea youngster is also in the team after shining at the Under-20 World Cup. Slonina is widely seen as a superstar in the making and, after making his USMNT debut in January, it seems to be a matter of when, not if, he gets his crack at the No.1 spot.

    This summer may be a bit too soon for him, but it'll be a good experience, at least, learning under Turner and Sean Johnson, two World Cup veterans.

  2. Robinson's return to form
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    Robinson's return to form

    With the full team, Miles Robinson very well could be the go-too starter. He was phenomenal against Mexico in the Nations League and, like Turner, is one of the holdovers from that squad.

    A devastating Achilles injury kept him out of the World Cup last fall, but Robinson is looking back to his old self. Still, getting reps in the Gold Cup will be good for him, especially as he continues to draw European interest.

    How many games can Robinson go? It remains to be seen. So far, the USMNT has taken it easy with him by limiting his minutes somewhat. We know that Robinson will play quality minutes at the Gold Cup, but the quantity is the mystery, especially considering the other veteran center-backs in the team.

    Look out for Jalen Neal, too, who could make an impact despite being one of the younger members of the squad.

  3. Young full-backs making a push

    Young full-backs making a push

    Of the full-backs in the squad just one, DeAndre Yedlin, has significant USMNT experience. John Tolkin, Bryan Reynolds and DeJuan Jones, meanwhile, are all players that are looking to make a rise up the depth chart, with all having the ability to play a key role this cycle.

    Tolkin is the youngest of the bunch, and it could be argued he has the highest ceiling. A standout in MLS with the New York Red Bulls, Tolkin is seen as a future European transfer, with many outside of North America already taking notice of his abilities.

    Reynolds, meanwhile, has three caps to his name and is back with the USMNT after having a difficult time with his own European adventure. His time with Roma has been a mess, but a loan to Westerlo in Belgium helped him regain some much-needed confidence ahead of the Gold Cup.

    And then there's Jones, the New England Revolution star. He's the oldest of this trio at 25, but he's looked solid in his two USMNT caps thus far. He'll battle with Tolkin for a spot on the left, while Reynolds and Yedlin will duke it out on the right-hand side.

    Left-back, in particular, is a position of interest for the USMNT, who have been looking for a back-up to Antonee Robinson for some time. Could it be Tolkin or Jones? We'll find out this summer.

  4. What's up with Aidan Morris?
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    What's up with Aidan Morris?

    One of the more interesting inclusions and another dual-national battle the U.S. has won. Morris has drawn interest from Canada, and could be a key player for them. He, ultimately, opted for the U.S., though, saying: "I think my heart felt more comfortable and more shaped towards the U.S. than Canada. That’s no disrespect towards Canada, it’s just where I’ve grown up and something I’ve been working towards my whole life."

    That's good news for the USMNT, as the 21-year-old midfielder has been playing well in MLS. He's the youngest player in league history to start an MLS Cup, having helped lift the Columbus Crew to the 2020 title, and he's only grown as a midfielder since then. A defensive-minded option, Morris could be an answer at the senior level, where there isn't really a backup in Tyler Adams' mold.

    This is a good tryout for him to prove he can be that guy, and perhaps more, in the years to come.

  5. Cowell's chance to shine
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    Cowell's chance to shine

    He was one of the best players at the U20 World Cup, and now Cade Cowell will get a chance to shine on the USMNT stage. The San Jose Earthquakes star has looked good in his few senior caps but, after his efforts in Argentina with the U20s, it's now time to unleash him in official competitions to see how he fares.

    Cowell is still very much a rough prospect, but there's a diamond under there. A player blessed with elite pace and fantastic dribbling ability, Cowell is a goalscoring touch away from being a top, top prospect. It's getting there, but not all the way there yet, and a little experience will certainly go a long way.

    Look for Cowell to get some run this tournament, at least as a game-changing substitute, as he continued his evolution on the senior level.

  6. The forgotten forwards

    The forgotten forwards

    It's all been lost a bit in the mania caused by Balogun's arrival, but Jesus Ferreira and Brandon Vazquez remain very much a part of the USMNT's striker pool.

    Ferreira is probably the more interesting of the two. The World Cup veteran is such a unique player, and one that is still growing in many ways. He has 10 goals in 18 MLS games this season, making him a Golden Boot contender as he continues to evolve as a goalscorer. He may never be a pure, old-school No. 9, but his creative ability is an asset, especially if he can continue to score at a good level.

    Vazquez, meanwhile, has slowed down a bit this year after his breakout 2022. Still, the FC Cincinnati star is a player to keep an eye on as he has shown that he is dangerous in front of goal, which is something the U.S. lacked all last cycle.

    Can these two make a challenge to Balogun and Ricardo Pepi in the coming years? It'll be tough, but Ferreira, in particular, is one to keep an eye on as he grows as a forward.

  7. Callaghan's magic touch

    Callaghan's magic touch

    Callaghan's tenure has been brief, but it's also been just about perfect. Just two games into his stint as interim coach, Callaghan has led the USMNT to two of the most impressively-dominant wins in recent history. Under Callaghan, the U.S. has looked nothing short of spectacular, which certainly is worthy of praise.

    Still, the calls from social media to make Callaghan permanent manager over Gregg Berhalter are way, way premature and, to be honest, pretty nonsensical. Callaghan has worked wonders so far in his first two games as a head coach at any level, but, despite the successes, this is still very much an interim job.

    Should he go out and lead the U.S. to the Gold Cup, though, it'll be interesting to see what happens. Does he return as an assistant, having had that taste of head coaching, or does he look to MLS or elsewhere for a job?

    It all, of course, depends on how the USMNT fares this summer but, at least so far, Callaghan has had the magic touch.

  8. Zendejas becomes a star?

    Zendejas becomes a star?

    He was unlucky not to get on in the Nations League, but Alejandro Zendejas could end up being the star of this Gold Cup group. The Club America winger is one of the more interesting players in the pool, as his technical ability makes him a legitimate option on the wing. Zendejas just glides on the ball and can help the USMNT open up a difficult defense, which is why he has a ceiling where he could be a key player for the regular team, likely off the bench.

    In this tournament, though, he'll likely have to be a key contributor. He certainly has the ability to do so, and it'll be good to see him get some games and add to his three USMNT caps.

    The question is where you play him. Does he start on the left, right or perhaps even centrally as an attack-minded midfielder? Either way, the expectation is that Zendejas will play key minutes, one way or another.

  9. That first game

    That first game

    We'll be honest here: the U.S. shouldn't struggle in the slightest in their games against St. Kitts & Nevis and Trinidad & Tobago. The latter, obviously, is still a team that will give USMNT fans nightmares from 2017, but the U.S., even with this shorthanded roster, is just a much better team.

    Jamaica, though, is a team that can give the USMNT trouble. That first game against the Reggae Boyz could, ultimately, be the toughest the USMNT faces all tournament.

    While the U.S., Mexico and Canada all head into the Gold Cup with shorthanded squads, Jamaica is bringing a star-studded squad that will have legitimate hopes of a title. They've made the final twice this decade already, but this roster is even better than those we've seen from the Reggae Boyz.

    Premier League stars like Leon Bailey, Bobby Decordova-Reid, Demarai Gray and Michail Antonio lead a team that also includes longtime veterans Andre Blake, Kemar Lawrence, Cory Burke and Adrian Mariappa. Antonio, in particular, is probably the best player in this tournament, with Bailey, too, being in that conversation.

    The question is if Jamaica can put it all together. They've struggled with it in the past despite their obvious talent. If they can, the U.S. may not start this tournament on the right foot. It'll be an interesting matchup, no doubt.