Ramirez headlines five MLS standouts who deserved a Gold Cup look
On Sunday, United States national team head coach Bruce Arena released a MLS-heavy roster of 23 players for the 2017 Gold Cup group stage.
While there are no shockers -- absent national team stalwarts like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey would likely be called in for the knockout rounds -- there are some MLS players who might feel aggrieved at being left out.
Christian Ramirez, FW, Minnesota United
Out of all the snubs, Ramirez's case may be the strongest. His name started cropping up in the past year or so after producing 51 goals in three excellent seasons at Minnesota United. The only problem was that at the time Minnesota, was in the NASL; the thought was that his goal total was inflated due to inferior competition and that surely he would struggle in making the transition to MLS.
But Ramirez has proved all the doubters wrong, and through 17 games Ramirez has nine goals. His uncanny knack of being at the right place at the right time has continued in MLS, and going up against the league's more-physical center-backs has not been a problem. At this rate, he might have to wait until January before he gets his chance of a first national team cap.
Ike Opara, DF, Sporting Kansas City
Opara has arguably been the best defender in MLS this season, so it is curious that he was not even included on the 40-man preliminary roster. Injuries have been unkind to Opara in his career (only nine matches played from 2014-15), but it is hard overlooking how big he has been this season for Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes.
Opara has been a beast in the air, clearing away any and all crosses that come into the box. It's no surprise that SKC have registered nine shutouts in his 16 starts. Plus, he's shown an ability to get forward and be a threat in attack, evidenced by his acrobatic bicycle kick in the 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy on Saturday.
Tim Melia, GK, Sporting Kansas City
In looking at the three goalkeepers called in by Arena, Brad Guzan is likely to be the starter, while Sean Johnson, much improved this season with New York City FC, stands to be the backup. The third keeper is where Melia has an argument.
Bill Hamid has made some spectacular saves this season in the nation's capital, but there has also been the occasional howler. Melia, meanwhile, has been the picture of consistency and, like Opara, is another big reason Sporting Kansas City are at the top of the Western Conference thanks to a league-best 12 goals allowed.
Lee Nguyen, MF, New England Revolution
Nguyen appears to be a victim of his own versatility. Known in national team circles as a midfielder, Nguyen can also play on the right as a winger and has also lined up as a forward for the Revolution. There are few players who can control the flow of a game like Nguyen can.
While he is not playing at the same level he did in 2014 when he was a finalist for MVP, Nguyen has still been very good in 2017, with his masterpiece being the 3-0 win over Supporters' Shield-leading Toronto FC back on June 5 in which he carved up the Canadians. Arena may rue not having Nguyen's ability to unlock a five-man defense.
Matt Polster, DF, Chicago Fire
A player who doesn't get a lot of attention, Polster has been quite good for Chicago this season since moving into the right-back position after having played as defensive midfielder during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He's physical, good in possession and has improved his passing. Look no further than David Accam's back-heel goal over the weekend against Orlando City. Accam will deservedly get the headlines for the sparkling finish, but the cross from Polster isn't too shabby.
Nevertheless, it was not enough to get the nod ahead of Graham Zusi and Eric Lichaj. Still, to his credit, Polster did make the 40-man preliminary roster and at age 24, there will surely be national team camps to come.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .