- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
There are a few different ways to go about it – several prisms to view the United States men's national team's objective at this summer's stateside Copa America Centenario.
This one-off mega-tournament – which might not be so mega, if more stars like Barcelona's Neymar drop out – can be the ultimate preparation and learning experience for the next World Cup in 2018 when the outcome really counts. It's a rare chance for the Americans to measure themselves against some of the world's best sides in a competitive setting and improve. Or it can be its own thing, and the best possible performance for the U.S. should come before all else.
A little more context: The U.S. is very likely to bid for the hosting rights to the 2026 World Cup, and putting on a successful tournament will go some way in gathering momentum for that effort. And part of a successful tournament is a respectable showing from the home team.
Yet, for all that, the bigger picture must not be overlooked.
In the ambitious sweep of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, which continues to consist of greater parts hope and hype than progress, the end game is improved performance at the World Cup. His preliminary 40-man roster blended veterans with younger players, and that's the right approach.
So, with an eye to 2018 as well as a decent run on home soil this summer, we would advocate for the strongest possible starters, regardless of age, backed up by younger players with the most upside two years down the line. A compromise, in other words, insofar as one is possible with the current player pool.
Here's who we'd pick for the USMNT's final 23-man roster, with an average age of just over 26:
Brad Guzan, age 31
Ethan Horvath, age 20
Tim Howard, age 37
Klinsmann has indicated that Howard, who is leaving Everton for the Colorado Rapids after losing his starting job, and Guzan, whose Aston Villa was relegated, will rotate for the time being. This throwback Kasey Keller-Brad Friedel arrangement could last for a while, although Howard is in decline. Guzan should have another half decade in him, considering that his body clock is running in goalkeepers' years.
But all the same, it's time to start thinking about succession. And with Bill Hamid injured until sometime this summer, Horvath, who has made a name for himself with Molde in Norway, is the logical understudy.
Steve Birnbaum, age 25
John Brooks, age 23
Geoff Cameron, age 30
Timmy Chandler, age 26
Eric Lichaj, age 27
Matt Miazga, age 20
Tim Ream, age 28
DeAndre Yedlin, age 22
Things are more complicated along the back line. Because of the endless turnover in Klinsmann's defense, not to mention the frequent shuffling of players between positions, this group is as unsettled as any.
But Cameron and Yedlin turned in solid Premier League seasons and should be automatic in the middle and on the right, respectively. John Brooks has rebounded very nicely with Hertha Berlin in its strong season and should also start in central defense. And there are a few different options on the left – Chandler, Lichaj and Ream – who could be a good tournament away from being in the mix for the coming years.
Since Chandler and Cameron can spell Yedlin on the right, why not go young with the cover up the middle? Miazga barely played at Chelsea after his January move but plainly is a big prospect. Birnbaum has looked totally at home on the field with the U.S. in his four caps so far and has even proven an attacking threat in the air.
Alejandro Bedoya, age 29
Michael Bradley, age 28
Fabian Johnson, age 28
Jermaine Jones, age 34
Perry Kitchen, age 24
Darlington Nagbe, age 25
Christian Pulisic, age 17
This area of the field has suddenly gotten crowded, with Bedoya playing well in France, Johnson doing the same in Germany, Jones dominating since his MLS suspension, Pulisic breaking out with Dortmund and Nagbe making a strong case in his recent U.S. appearances. Jones and Bradley will likely form the spine of this team in midfield, flanked, ideally, by Bedoya and Johnson. Nagbe and Pulisic will offer alternatives at several positions, although the latter is listed as a forward on the preliminary roster.
There isn't much to discuss here, especially since those alternatives are quite young. All that's left open is the job of holding midfielder. Since Kyle Beckerman is now 34, we wonder if giving a younger option a look might make sense. The Real Salt Lake pillar is still at his best, but health becomes fickle at his age.
Why not give Perry Kitchen a try? He's only 24, sufficiently disciplined to sit behind the ball and shield the defense, and he's already plenty seasoned as a professional.
Jozy Altidore, age 26
Clint Dempsey, age 33
Jordan Morris, age 21
Bobby Wood, age 23
Gyasi Zardes, age 24
Altidore remains both mercurial and the best target man option out there, so his spot in the lineup remains firm. Dempsey, meanwhile, keeps chugging along with the Seattle Sounders and, in spite of his age, is still the most likely to offer a creative spark. Behind those two, Morris, Wood and Zardes all offer youth, potential for improvement and the versatility to play either on the flank or in a two-man front line, supporting Altidore or Dempsey.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.