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U.S. Men's National Team

Projecting the USMNT March World Cup qualifying roster

Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski /USA Today Sports

It’s never easy to select a national team roster, especially one prepared for a must-win situation. That’s the task Bruce Arena faces as he calls in a full U.S. Men’s National Team roster for the first time for a pair of vital World Cup qualifiers.

There’s little time to experiment as the U.S. returns to action on March 24 against Honduras before traveling to Panama four days later. After falling to Mexico and Costa Rica, the U.S. currently sits at the bottom of the Hexagonal table, making the upcoming slate of matches must-win for a team pushing for Russia 2018. Four points are all but necessary while anything less than six will do little to ease concerns following a difficult start to Hexagonal play.

After taking charge of the MLS-based January camp, Arena is now able to call in a full complement of European and Mexican-based stars. However, it’s unlikely the USMNT boss will be looking to integrate many fresh, young faces to a group that faces a pair of difficult tests.

Luckily for Arena, several familiar faces have recently returned to the fold. Tim Howard appears to be healthy, giving Arena an answer at goalkeeper. Geoff Cameron has recently returned from injury and will likely earn a starting spot now that he’s back in action. Bobby Wood enters camp as hot as can be, giving the USMNT an in-form forward to lead the way.

With that in mind, Arena faces plenty of difficult decisions as he looks to finalize a roster for qualifying.

Here’s a look at a group of players that could join the U.S. squad:

GOALKEEPERS

David Bingham, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando

OUTLOOK: The goalkeeping position remains a point of contention, but little doubt remains over who is at the top. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan remain one and two at the position, with the former’s recent spectacular return to the Colorado Rapids making him the likely starter against Honduras.

During last week’s Facebook chat, Arena said Nick Rimando “had a little bit of an edge” on his January camp teammates, making him a likely call in. Prior to Howard’s return, Rimando was a legitimate candidate to start for the U.S., especially given Guzan’s lack of game action outside of cup play. One thing that could be against Rimando is the fact that his club has a match during the break against Luis Robles and the Red Bulls, which could rule one of or both of the veteran goalkeepers out for the U.S.

As for young options, Arena has several, but David Bingham and William Yarbrough remain the most likely candidates for a fourth spot in camp.

MISSED THE CUT: Bill Hamid, Ethan Horvath, Luis Robles, William Yarbrough

DEFENDERS

Steve Birnbaum, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Greg Garza, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Eric Lichaj, DeAndre Yedlin, Graham Zusi

OUTLOOK: The first-choice defensive pairing of John Brooks and Geoff Cameron is back in the mix, a welcome sight for Arena. The two have had their ups-and-downs since commanding the U.S. backline in the Copa America but, when healthy, there’s little doubt that a Brooks-Cameron duo is the best pairing for the U.S.

As for fullbacks, DeAndre Yedlin is all but certain to start on the right if he is healthy enough to return from a recent injury. Graham Zusi will likely be called in to provide depth at both right back and in the midfield if necessary.

Left back, though, is a bit of a mystery. Arena said the goal is to push Johnson into the midfield, although, for the time being, a spot at fullback may very much be in play for the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder.  The U.S. needs to settle on a consistent left back before throwing them into World Cup qualifying so, for now, Johnson should get the nod.

There are other options, though. Arena trusts DaMarcus Beasley, but his days are obviously numbered with the national team. The USMNT boss mentioned Eric Lichaj by name, although the Nottingham Forest defender has been away from the national team for quite some time. Timmy Chandler, meanwhile, remains an option on either side, although his one-game suspension could see him left at home.

MISSED THE CUT: DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Matt Hedges, Tim Ream, Keegan Rosenberry, Jorge Villafana, Walker Zimmerman

MIDFIELDERS

Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Sebastian Lletget, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic

OUTLOOK: The midfield picture is a bit clearer, even if Arena has a variety of options for handling the central midfield. With Jermaine Jones suspended, Arena could certainly turn to a familiar face in Sebastian Lletget, who looked very good in the role during January camp. Geoff Cameron is a player that could be pushed up the field to plug a hole as a defensive midfielder, although the U.S. is likely better served with the Stoke City star at centerback.

Regardless of who is next to him, Michael Bradley will start as the No. 6. Christian Pulisic will certainly start on one of the wings, and the thought of him sharing a side with Fabian Johnson is certainly an enticing one.

The question is how Arena balances the depth. There are younger options, players like Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta who have more than earned a look with their club form. There are also players like Dax McCarty and Danny Williams, who appear to be back in the picture under Arena. McCarty, in particular, could certainly earn a call-up after Arena revealed that the Fire midfielder will receive  “strong consideration” going forward.

MISSED THE CUT – Kellyn Acosta, Benny Feilhaber, Emerson Hyndman, Danny Williams

FORWARDS

Jozy Altidore, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood, Chris Wondolowski

OUTLOOK: All things considered, the forward position is likely the most clear-cut. Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood are almost certain to start while Jordan Morris provides a valuable depth option. Wood’s recent form at Hamburg has been spectacular, and it makes too much sense for Arena to reunite Wood and Altidore in a two-striker set atop the field.

In a 4-3-3, Wood could be shifted to the wing, creating a dangerous front three of Wood, Altidore and Pulisic, even if the Hamburg star is more effective down the middle. His recent upswing in defensive work is a welcome sign, regardless of where he starts.

As for the fourth spot, it’s unlikely Clint Dempsey gets called in as the U.S. program looks to take things slowly with the Seattle Sounders star. Terrence Boyd, Julian Green and Juan Agudelo remain options, while someone like Aron Johannsson is likely out due to his lack of game action with Werder Bremen.

MISSED THE CUT: Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, Julian Green, Aron Johannsson

33 comments
  • swy19

    At what point, and after how many subpar games, will discussion commence on whether Bradley should be starting?

    Not saying he should definitely be on the bench, but I can’t even remember the last time he really played well. Yet for some reason he’s completely immune from criticism. At least with Altidore, there have been zero other options, and thus, he was the default option.

    Don’t we have good options at DMid? Danny Williams? Jones? Acosta seems to be a hot new name?

    Like

    • whammmm

      You would think it is time to start forcing his hand. Let him know the spot isn’t his regardless of form, make him fight for it again… On the other hand he has the experience and there is very little competition at the position, compared to others anyway.
      Obviously winning a qualifier is more important than proving a point to someone but both would be nice. I’m hoping he has a resurgence under BA, either way he needs real competition like anyone else.

      Like

    • Hunky Dory

      +1. It’s time for Bradley to face a LOT more scrutiny. Although Danny Williams? hardly. Jones, obviously. And Acosta is not a CDM.

      Like

      • whammmm

        I like Danny Williams but only get to see him play here and there… I find it odd he isn’t talked about and brought in more often, must be something we don’t know.

        Like

      • swy19

        Granted, I know little about Acosta, but I’ve heard others say his best position is CDM, rather than LB as Klinsy played him.

        I would love to see Danny Williams more, but as mentioned, maybe there is something we don’t know. Seems to play well in Championship though, and there has been some mention of a move to the PL.

        Never been a big Dax Mccarty guy, but apparently he’s been very good the last couple years, I’d even give him a run.

        Not for these games maybe, but if I have to watch 4 or 5 ridiculous giveaways from MB later this month, it’s going to be tough to watch.

        I’m more interested as to when people might start criticizing, as he hasn’t been good since even before the ’14 WC. We’re working on 3-4 years of legitimate subpar play.

        Like

      • slowleftarm

        Acosta plays in central midfield for Dallas every week. What he is not is a left back.

        Like

    • Davis, Lennon, Observer & Associates

      My suggested solution would be to specifically say to Bradley and jones that they will be played on or the other moving forward but not both. So thus id start Bradley and depending on how he was doing (along with the score line) would determine when jones fame in. Bradleys struggling? Jones comes in in the 55-65 range. Bradley playing well and we’re getting the result? Bring jones in 65-75 to close out game. This allows jones to have a smaller window to really focus on using his motor to impact. It gives Bradley less time and leaves another spot open for an younger cm partner to groom

      Like

      • whammmm

        Good idea for the short term for sure. Still need someone reliable in the near future. If there was a one game winner take all tomorrow I’m honestly not sure who I’d pick between jones or bradley… probably jones.

        Like

  • Benjamin C.

    I would rather have Villafana playing out of position at right back than see Zusi provide nothing if he actually had to play.

    Like

  • DCU Fan in SoCal

    3,2,1 and the Wondo’blows’ki rants begin…

    Get this guy as far as possible from Avaya Stadium, please! anyone else but Wondo’blows’ki, wondo cant score in a brothel…

    Like

  • beto

    i don’t care if the game is played at Wondo’s mother’s house.. he does not need to be in the US roster!

    also what does Acosta, Hedges, Zimmerman need to do get a call? they all should be backing up Bradley, Brooks and Cameron in March and getting acclimated before they are the Gold Cup starters. don’t even try to justify Gonzalez after November..

    lastly FabJo should be starting as an advanced winger. Lichaj, Villafana, Garza all good enough to cover at the fullback spots.

    Like

  • kc

    lazy article. what signs do we have that arena will call in Wondo?

    correct me if injury kept him out but dont recall him playing in January.

    Liked by 1 person

  • LookingDangerous

    feilhaber and beasley/besler for wondo or arriola – bruce is looking for guys he trusts.

    Like

    • Hunky Dory

      Don’t forget, Arriola is an LA Galaxy academy product. He was snatched away by Tijuana just as Arena and the Galaxy offered him a 1st team pro contract. He was 18 at the time, so safe to say, Bruce rates him. Problem of course is that Bruce’s job is on the line too, and so he’ll almost certainly go with age before beauty, meaning someone like Feilhaber does indeed get the nod ahead of Arriola – for now. But if US advances, expect Arriola to get a lot of looks from Arena as time moves on.

      Liked by 1 person

  • MattyK

    I think it would be a good idea to have Feilhaber on the roster. Even if he doesnt play, though I think he should. I am not sure I would start him but I wouldnt be against it either.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I scored three goals in one game

    Don’t see the point with Dax over Acosta, Acosta can play multiple CM roles as a 6 or an 8 and is younger and better. Don’t want to hear the experience part because when was the last time Dax played an important game for the national team. Acosta is in great form and would be a better sub or injury replacement. And bedoya didn’t play at all in last qualifiers and looked pretty bad in January camp so would rather have an open roster spot than him

    Like

  • Gary Page

    Wondo is a stupid choice, of course. And why do you need 4 GK’s for two games? Howard has shown he is ready to go and both Rimando and Guzan are good backups. Get rid of Bingham and Wondo and then you have 2 more slots you can use for J Jones, or Chandler, or Feilhaber, or any number of other good choices. While Jones will be ineligible for the first game, he could be valuable for the game vs. Panama as we will probably need his defensive work there.

    Like

  • I scored three goals in one game

    Something nobody has mentioned, if Dempsey does get called in I would rather have a Dempsey-Wood pairing up top than a Altidore-Wood. Wood is just playing on another level than Jozy right now, no knock on Jozy.

    Like

  • shortpocketsnumbertwo

    This is a “should be” not a prediction:

    Against Honduras:

    –Johnson——Wood——Bedoya–
    ————Pulisic—–Hyndman——-
    —————-Bradley——————-
    Lichaj—Brooks–Cameron–Yedlin
    —————-Howard——————

    subs: Guzan, Horvath; Vilafana, Zusi, Besler, Gonzalez; Williams, Kljestan, Nagbe,Lletgat; Altidore, Morris

    Against Panama:

    –Pulisic——-Wood———Bedoya–
    ———–Kljestan–Jones—————
    —————–Bradley——————–
    Johnson—Brooks–Cameron–Chandler
    ——————Howard———————–

    subs: Guzan, Horvath; Lichaj, Yedlin, Besler, Gonzalez; Williams, Kljestan, Hyndman, Nagbe; Altidore, Morris

    I would also invite Green, Acosta, and Arriola to camp.

    Like

  • Hunky Dory

    For better or worse, Arena loves veterans. Not to mention, his brand new job is on the line. So if you’re thinking this is the time for him to experiment with newcomers, you’re dreaming. Look for a midfield of Bradley Kljestan Bedoya and MAYBE Pulisic, if Fabian plays left back. Howard in goal, Altidore and Wood up top. The big questions lie in the back line.

    Like

  • mike

    Why call up Wondo ughhh!!!!Stop taking steps and the team back. Call up Johnsen from Hearts and Cap lock him. let him be the only new player.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Lost in Space

    Regarding the potential roster selections I don’t have too many complaints. The 3 players I fail to understand why they were included are….
    1) Wondo – He failed to deliver under Bradley, JK, and it is assured he’ll fail under Arena. There is absolutely nothing that he brings to the squad that someone else who is younger couldn’t provide. As the 4th striker option there is no reason to bring a 34 yr old Wondo. Any one of the following would be a better option….Green, Boyd, even ArJo.
    2) McCarty – Did not impress during the January Camp. There are any number of better, younger, and more athletic options….Williams, Morales, & Acosta are 3 names that come to mind.
    3) Never been a fan of Kljestan, and since he’s suspended for the game against Honduras I see no reason for him to be there when Feilhaber fills the same requirement and in my opinion is a better overall player.

    Personally I’d prefer our depth options (players 18-23) to be young guns. We need to get younger, and get these guys integrated into the team sooner rather than later.

    Liked by 1 person

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