The 40-man preliminary squad for this season’s CONCACAF Gold Cup was released Saturday night and there was one shocking omission from the roster — Minnesota United’s Christian Ramirez was left out in the cold. United States manager Bruce Arena opted to include players such as Juan Agudelo, Chris Wondolowski, and Gyasi Zardes over the talented Loons forward.
If you give Ramirez’s stats a once-over, it makes his exclusion that much harder to stomach. The California native has eight goals in just 13 games played this season, which is tied for the most by any player eligible to represent the United States National Team. Furthermore, if you remove penalty kicks from the equation, Ramirez would be tied for second in the league in goals scored. The Loons striker has shown the ability to fill different roles this season and has looked adept as a target man under Adrian Heath. At 26 years old, Ramirez isn’t exactly young by international soccer standards, but he’s just a few months older than Gyasi Zardes and is a full two years younger than Chris Wondolowski was when he got his first international cap.
Traditionally, the Gold Cup that takes place one year prior to the World Cup tends to be an opportunity for some of the players that are farther down the pecking order to get a chance to play and train with the main United States National team. Bruce Arena followed this tradition to some degree as he included players like Jesse Gonzalez, Joe Bendik, Justin Morrow, Tommy McNamara, Cristian Roldan, Kenny Saief and Dom Dwyer. However, for some reason, Christian Ramirez’s name was not included.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup represented Ramirez’s best opportunity to break into the squad for the foreseeable future. After the Gold Cup, the United States will be shoring up its World Cup qualification efforts and then hopefully preparing for the World Cup with a handful of friendlies in 2018. Since Ramirez didn’t get selected to this roster, he is unlikely to get a call-up at all in the next two years barring something unforeseen happening. With World Cup qualification on the line, Arena will surely opt to go with players that he has seen before, know his system, and have earned his trust. Ramirez will have done none of those things.
The three players that Ramirez should have beaten to a call-up are Gyasi Zardes, Chris Wondolowski, and Juan Agudelo. Zardes burst onto the international scene after his stellar 2014 MLS campaign where he scored 16 goals in 32 games played. Since then, his domestic form has been mediocre-at-best and his international form hasn’t been much better. In his nine games played so far this season, Zardes has failed to tally a single goal and has one assist despite playing in an attacking corps that has Giovani dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini. The Galaxy homegrown has made a whopping 31 international appearances in just over two years and has scored just six times. He does possess pace and the versatility to play out wide but his first touch is poor most of the time. He’s a known commodity who’s in a run of bad form, and he should not have made this roster over Ramirez.
Wondolowski’s inclusion in this roster is even more of a head-scratcher than Zardes’. The two-time MLS Golden Boot winner is now 34 years old and is a known commodity by all. He’s a poacher through-and-through, and has had massive success in the MLS but has never been a great player for the national team. Out of his eleven international goals, eight of them have come against international lightweights Guatemala, Belize, and Cuba. This particular Gold Cup represents a great opportunity to look at some undervalued talent that could be a potential future contributor. Wondo’s best days are behind him, and his skillset isn’t needed for this particular tournament.
Out of the aforementioned trio, I can understand why Bruce Arena would like to get a closer look at Juan Agudelo. The Revolution forward made his international debut at the age of eighteen for the United States back in 2010 under manager Bob Bradley. Over the last seven years, Agudelo has appeared 23 times for the U.S. and has scored just three goals. The Colombian-born forward is still just 24 years old but he’s been given a handful of opportunities on the international stage already. He has seven goals this season for New England but has never scored more than that in any of his prior MLS seasons. It’s taken Christian Ramirez just 13 games to eclipse the seven-goal mark in his MLS debut season.
I’d like to reiterate that I thought that Arena did a fantastic job selecting this squad outside of Ramirez’s omission. Bringing in uncapped players like Kelyn Rowe, Tommy McNamara, Christian Roldan, and Dom Dwyer should go a long way to help Arena figure out which players are able to bring creative attacking depth to the nation’s player pool. His decision to include dual-nationals such as Jesse Gonzalez and Kenny Saief could also pay dividends as those two would be cap-tied to the U.S. if they appear in a Gold Cup game.
His decision not to call-up Ramirez will undoubtedly help the Loons in the short run as he will be able to play for the team during the international break. However, it’s incredibly frustrating when one of your team’s players deserves the opportunity to prove himself for his national team but is denied the ability to do so. Hopefully, he’ll be able to secure a call-up at some point but if not there’s a strong possibility that we look back on this juncture and wonder what would have been if Bruce Arena had just given him a shot when he first deserved it.