NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 23 players on the U.S. roster for next month's CONCACAF Gold Cup are mostly young and lack international experience. They need little reminding of what's at stake.
Past regional championships gave then-fringe players like Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley and Stuart Holden the chance to showcase their skills. 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," coach Bruce 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."
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.
Thirteen players on the roster have eight or fewer international appearances. Four have been invited for the first time: Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer and midfielders Kenny Saief of the Belgian club Gent, Cristian Roldan of Seattle 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."
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."