There is no mystery regarding the task in front of the U.S. Men’s National Team. The next week is broken up into two vital qualifiers that will determine whether or not the Americans earn a spot in the 2018 World Cup.
Bruce Arena confirmed the 26-man squad tasked with earning that spot on Sunday morning, revealing an expanded squad featuring the return of some familiar faces. After featuring in the last set of qualifiers, Fabian Johnson and Eric Lichaj headline a list of several players left off the squad while DeAndre Yedlin, Juan Agudelo, Benny Feilhaber and Michael Orozco return to the team ahead of Friday’s penultimate match against Panama.
With just two matches remaining, Arena relied on experience, as expected, and the hope is that experience will help the U.S. navigate very tricky matches against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago.
“Win the game. There are no secrets to this,” Arena said. “We’ll have the team ready to play. I think the Orlando community will get behind this team, so we have to go out and play well and get the three points.
“It’s a roster we’ve selected that we believe will give us success in these next two games,” he added. “We have a pretty balanced roster with experienced players and if any issues arise, I think we have cover in all positions. We need to anticipate some issues with players with injuries, as well as suspensions.”
Injuries have been key for the USMNT throughout the past month or so. John Brooks remains a long-term absence, robbing the U.S. of a starting central defender. Injury issues could also be the reason Johnson was left at home while Jordan Morris’ recent issue led to the introduction of Agudelo and Chris Wondolowski to add to the forward pool.
The good news? Yedlin is back in the fold, providing cover at a position that provided some issues last time out. Without Yedlin, the U.S. has a severe lack of pace at fullback, and that lack of pace could certainly be exploited by either Panama or Trinidad & Tobago over the next two matches.
In addition to Yedlin, Geoff Cameron also received a clean bill of health following an injury scare. The Stoke City defender had a shocking performance against Costa Rica last time out, but he remains a favorite to start at least once in the coming qualifiers.
“Yedlin has been playing now over the past couple of weeks, and Cameron played 90 minutes this weekend, which is a good sign,” Arena said. “We’ll see what they look like when they come into camp.”
Overall, it’s an experienced squad. A total of 17 of the 26 players called in played in September while all but four (Wondolowski, Agudelo, Dax McCarty and Nick Rimando) have featured in World Cup qualifying before. It wasn’t the time to introduce a youngster like Weston McKennie or Jonathan Gonzalez, especially with a World Cup on the line.
Largely, the group in camp is the group that has performed for Arena throughout the 2017 campaign. He’ll rely on that group for one more set of matches with a spot in Russia on the line.
“The players always give the commitment, that’s never an issue,” Arena said. “The issue is whether or not we get the results we need, and I think we’re positioned to do that. When I took the job last November, if you said to me ‘you’d be in position in game nine to play a game at home that you had to win, would you take that?’ I would say ‘Yes.’
“In 2017 we’ve had one blip in the Costa Rica game. All the other results went along as we expected, and maybe even an extra point in Mexico. I think if it comes down to where we need four or six points in our last two games, I think that’s fine and we’ll get it done.”