The United States men’s national team will begin its preparations for the Copa America Centenario with what is undoubtedly a curious friendly encounter with Puerto Rico in Bayamón on Sunday. Curious not only because it will be the first time that the United States has ever met Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory far better known for its exploits in baseball than soccer, but because of the timing of the match.
It will take place just 24 hours after Jurgen Klinsmann names his final 23-man squad for June’s Copa America, meaning some players taking the field will do so knowing they have not made the cut. In a complicated dynamic, Klinsmann has named a 40-man preliminary squad for the Copa America, 15 of which are in a 22-man “transition camp” for the friendly with Puerto Rico and early preparation for the tournament, which will be held in the U.S. for the first time.
“We are doing this week in Miami and finishing off the week with a game in Puerto Rico because it’s really important in terms of transitioning our players coming in from Europe and some who are already done in Mexico to keep them in a flow, to keep them in a rhythm,” Klinsmann said when announcing the party to take on Puerto Rico, according to USSoccer.com. “One of our lessons from last year’s Gold Cup was because the tournament was pushed into July, we couldn’t transition our European-based players and some of the Mexican players perfectly.”
“We added some players coming from the younger side to look at them and to get a roster together, but the main purpose of this camp is to keep the rhythm, keep going and to transition perfectly into the preparation for the Copa America Centenario.”
Those currently in the camp are all based in Europe or Mexico, with those playing in Major League Soccer remaining with their clubs for this weekend’s round of fixtures. Some training in Miami ahead of the trip to Puerto Rico look certain to make the cut. Striker Bobby Wood falls into that category, and should be in a good frame of mind, having just come off a season in which he scored 17 goals in Germany’s second tier to seal a transfer to Bundesliga side Hamburg.
And his chances of being a starter when the U.S. kicks off its Copa America campaign against Colombia on June 2 have now been enhanced by the withdrawal of Jozy Altidore. The striker who has for so long led the line for the U.S. has been ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring injury.
Other players who will be eager to make an impression on Sunday are Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, who remain in competition to be first-choice goalkeeper. For the likes of Tim Ream, Michael Orozco, Alfredo Morales and Danny Williams, though, they may be going into the game already knowing that they will get the summer off.
Still, while for the U.S., the match is a glorified training exercise, it will be a huge occasion for Puerto Rico. The island has never qualified for a Gold Cup and only once even made it into the Caribbean Cup. Currently ranked 152 in the FIFA rankings, its last outing was a 1-0 defeat to Guyana in qualification for the 2017 Caribbean Cup.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Zack Steffen (SC Freiburg)
Defenders: John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham)
Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Caleb Stanko (SC Freiburg), Danny Williams (Reading)
Forwards: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Fabrice Picault (FC St. Pauli), Amando Moreno (Club Tijuana), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Kickoff Time: 12 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1, UniMás, Univision Deportes