Oh, Bruce. You just know how to stir the pot, don’t you?
A week after giving the impression that the United States Men’s National Team roster ahead of World Cup Qualifiers against Panama (6th October 7pm EST, ESPN2 and Univision) and Trinidad and Tobago (10th October 8 pm EST beINSPORT, Universo) would contain no surprises there were well a few surprises on Sunday morning.
One that seemed like a lock – Fabian Johnson – was left off while a few random players from USMNT past – Michael Orozco, Benny Feilhaber, Juan Agudelo, Chris Wondolowski- were brought back on. The rest was a bit of paint by numbers, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. What’s the word when one accepts their fate? Ah, yes ‘resigned’.
That being said anyone who is surprised that Arena would go for some wild card at this point have not been watching enough of the man’s coaching exploits. The man is the living embodiment of the phrase ‘tried and true.’
Arena was never going to rock the boat with this series of friendlies despite the rather stodgy play over the course of qualification – let’s call it Pre-Klinsmann and After-Klinsmann, or PK and AK. There isn’t a simple way out of this mess and the players that are in Arena’s squad are going to have to figure this out.
So before we get into the roster let’s go back over the current standings in CONCACAF.
The United States currently find themselves in fourth (2-3-3, 9 points) just behind Panama for third (2-4-2, 10 points) and ahead of Honduras (2-3-3, 9 points) on Goal Differential (+1 to -7).
Mexico have already qualified and Costa Rica can finish no worse than fourth. Trinidad and Tobago are eliminated and are bringing a largely experimental roster to prepare for the next cycle. Fourth place will go on to play the winner of Australia-Syria in a two-game inter-confederation playoff.
Here is how the final two matchdays breakdown for Panama and Honduras (home team first.) You can also check out all of the scenarios for advancement for the USMNT via U.S. Soccer.
October 7, 2017
United States versus Panama
Costa Rica versus Honduras (10pm EST)
October 10, 2017
Honduras versus Mexico (8pm EST)
Panama versus Costa Rica (8PM EST)
So is the current roster up for the task? Let’s take a look and find out!
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
So normally we would reserve this spot for the many reasons why Brad Guzan should not be on the roster. But the truth is he has actually done quite well since moving to Atlanta United. He has allowed just eights goals and has a .67 Goals Against Average.
Again, if Arena is not looking to rock the boat then having the three goalkeepers that your Federation has trusted for so many years to deliver results is not such a bad idea. There is certainly a trade-off down the road but remember Arena is here for one job only – get the United States in to Russia 2018.
What will be interesting to see is if he chooses to use Tim Howard for both matches. Odds are that Howard starts against Panama and that Guzan gets the nod for T&T. But that depends upon the result of the first match. Unless the U.S. routs Panama and Honduras get smoked or injuries occur don’t expect to see Rimando which is kind of par for the course at this point.
DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Let’s get the good news out of the way first, DeAndre Yedlin is back. The Magpies defender is back in the fold after sustaining a series of injuries over the past few months. Under Rafa Benitez at Newcastle Yedlin has quietly become one of the better defenders in the Premier League, using his speed and passing abilities to help relieve pressure at critical moments. The U.S. really missed him during the Costa Rica match where they looked lost trying to cut the deficit. If he is not starting then there are some questions that need to be asked of Arena.
As for the rest there are a lot of question marks. Not being able to bring in John Anthony Brooks due to injury certainly creates opportunities for other players to step in. But rather than having one definitive replacement there are about five or six different options that are all flawed for different reasons. The two most logical options – Cameron and Ream; Gonzalez and Besler – do not exactly inspire much confidence in supporters that this side can actually get to Russia 2018.
But Gonzalez has played better for Pachuca as of late and Besler is on one of the best defensive units in Major League Soccer. So there is some hope that out of this pack of players that they can pull off some serviceable shifts and get the job done. Arena may also tinker with a five man backline which would mean we would likely see all three.
Just a quick note on the Fabian Johnson situation: perhaps it might be still due to injury? He hasn’t really played that much for Borussia Monchengladbach this season and it may be perhaps a precautionary measure.
MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas),Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER)
Ok so let’s just go ahead and assume that Pulisic and Bradley will be in the starting eleven. Who gets the other two spots?
The odds seem to favor Bedoya and Nagbe for their experience but Arena really seems to like Acosta. Even though he has not played particularly well as of late for club or country it is not beyond the realm of possibility of seeing him line up alongside Bradley with Pulisic and Bedoya going out wide. That would leave Nagbe as the odd man out but having him come in as a substitute with fresh legs may better suit his skill set.
It will also be interesting to see where Feilhaber fits into this side. His spark and creativity in the midfield may mix well with Pulisic and give the rather lethargic U.S. midfield some life. Then again, the same could also be said for Arriola who has helped bring D.C. United’s attack out of the stone age.
There are many interesting combinations that Arena could go with over the course of the next two matches. But as with so many things when it comes to this side much of it will depend upon how confident he is about his backline and whether there will be a need for an additional defender.
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER)
No controversy here aside from those that still feel that Wondolowski should be held accountable for one missed shot.
Altidore will start up top either by himself or with Wood or Dempsey alongside of him. Wood was one of the few bright spots in the 1-1 draw with Honduras which may give him a bit of an edge over Dempsey. But Clint’s form with the Sounders has been rather good as of late – five goals in ten matches – and Wood has had trouble finding the back of the net for Hamburg so that may play a role in Arena’s decision-making.
Just to get back on Wondo for a second – how great would it be to see him get an important goal in either match? He has had such a hot and cold time with the USMNT that almost seems to not represent quite what he has done for American soccer in MLS. It would be a shame to see his career be defined by one miss. It is easy to be negative given all the things going on with this side. It is harder to be positive so let’s hope he knocks one in.