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Bruce Arena looks to continuity ahead of vital matches for USMNT

Photo by Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports

The next few weeks will determine whether or not the U.S. Men’s National Team books a spot in the 2018 World Cup. There are just four games remaining in this qualifying cycle and, currently in third place, the U.S. will need to take care of business over the next month or so to lock up a spot in Russia.

With that in mind, Bruce Arena opted for continuity and chemistry for the upcoming series of World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras.

Arena unveiled his 26-man roster on Sunday, one that was devoid of many surprises. The recently-healthy Fabian Johnson and Omar Gonzalez were in. Players like Danny Williams and Timmy Chandler, who have yet to earn an appearance under Arena, were out. Veterans like DaMarcus Beasley and Chris Wondolowski will join camp, while up-and-comer Cristian Roldan was perhaps the biggest surprise, even if he was a member of the Gold Cup squad.

Altogether, the U.S. roster is made up entirely of players that have already earned a call-up in 2017, and Arena will look to rely on that experience throughout the next two matches.

“When I came in, we were behind the eight ball and we didn’t have a whole lot of room to experiment, especially in World Cup qualifying,” Arena said. “Everyone here is experienced inside the group, they know what needs to be done, what’s expected of them, our style of play, and how we go about doing things. I think since everyone’s been with us now in 2017, it’ll make what is a really difficult week a little bit easier.

“People from the outside don’t realize how difficult it is to bring in a team and players from literally all over the world and get them recovered from weekend games and get them prepared for a critically important game on Friday. It’s a real challenge, and to have a group that’s together now that has tasted some success in 2017 should allow it to be a smooth transition into this game on Friday.”

Arena has largely assembled his first-team group. European stars Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Geoff Cameron are back in the fold after sitting out the summer. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are healthy and back after claiming this summer’s Gold Cup crown.

That said, there are still some notable absences. John Brooks is set to miss the rest of qualifying due to injury, while DeAndre Yedlin will also be absent after missing the start of Newcastle’s Premier League season. That leaves some major holes in the backline, making it paramount that veterans like Gonzalez, Graham Zusi and Tim Ream step up.

There’s also the issue of yellow card accumulation, as Altidore, Bradley, Cameron, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya and Matt Besler would be suspended with one more warning. With that in mind, Arena opted to expand the roster to 26 in order to have a full group ready for both games of the international break.

“We’ve experienced injuries throughout the year and that’s all part of it with national teams or club teams, but I have enough confidence in these players,” Arena said. “I think the experiences we’ve had together during the year will allow us to deal with any kind of issues that may arise as we get involved in these next two qualifying matches.

“I think we’re strong in the goal, up top very strong, and I like our midfield combinations,” he added. “Our back line has had some injuries over the past month that will hurt us a little bit, but I think if everyone comes into camp healthy, we have good options in our back line and good depth. I think overall we have a pretty solid roster here. We’ve called 26 players because we come into camp with six guys that have yellow cards, and we also have some players that are dealing with injury so we have to be smart.”

There will certainly be some balancing throughout the two-game set, as Arena has made rotation a priority throughout his tenure. Costa Rica will present quite a test on Friday at Red Bull Arena, and a trip to Honduras on short rest is a tough ask for any team.

That said, the U.S. is cautiously optimistic. There’s confidence in the team assembled, but there’s also a wariness with regards to the task at hand.

“We’re far from being in Russia,” Arena said. “I think one country is a little bit comfortable in this competition right now, which is Mexico with 14 points. Costa Rica is in pretty good shape with 11 points, then you have the U.S. with eight, Panama with seven, Honduras with five and Trinidad with three, so things can change real quickly over these next two games. We have to make sure we’re the team that secures points at home and hopefully get some points on the road. If we do that, we’re getting a lot closer to Russia.

“No one is safe at this point and a lot of things are going to happen over this next weekend.”


  1. Arriola should not have went to DC United. He should have stayed in Mexico or went to Europe. I do not get why he moved, it makes no sense. DC is not going to make him improve or give him playing time against stronger opposition.

  2. “Continuity & Chemistry” are valid points to a certain extent. However, they are meaningless when in some cases we’re talking about our 3rd, 4th, or 5th string players. After watching the Gold Cup I cannot believe that the coaching staff could honestly believe that Hedges, Zusi, Lichaj, and McCarty proved useful at the International Level. Then there are the inclusions of Rimando (has played 1 game for the US in 2017) & Wondo (hasn’t seen the field for the US in 2017)…2 players sooo far down the pecking order it is insane that they were called in for these qualifiers.

    While I can understand the need/desire to have Continuity & Chemistry…It still could have been accomplished by calling in Miazga, Chandler, Williams, Dwyer, & Gonzalez/Hamid…since you’d only be introducing 2 players who haven’t been into an Arena Camp.

    This squad selection represents everything I was afraid of when Bruce took over the team. He is so enamored with mediocre MLS retreads/veterans that he’ll call them up ahead of players who could actually offer something to the team.

  3. As best I could tell, FJ just came off his very first appearance since his injury, and it was a 10 min cameo as a late sub. Can he be counted on to go 90 min in a crucial WCQ match already? I hope so but have my doubts.

    I was a little surprised Chandler isn’t on the roster, mostly because I was surprised back when Arena said Chandler was in his plans. Something must have changed Bruce’s mind since then.

  4. “Continuity” huh, I guess that’s how they want to spin it when you leave your most in form RB playing at the highest level off the roster, or leaving a CM who was a auto starter for one of the better Championship sides for the past 3 season and played so well in the promotion final he was picked up by the opposing manager and currently earning minutes in the EPL, or leaving a CB owned by Chelsea who played well on loan in the Eredivise and helped his team with the Dutch Cup as a starter down the stretch.

    Its not “Continuity” its “MLS Centric”.

    Klinsmann said it while being interviewed by ESPN at the 2014 WC. He said the main thing him and USSoccer couldn’t come to terms on the first time he was courted by Gulati just after the 2006 WC was that he wasn’t allowed complete control of his roster selections. This really is a WTF moment if you go back and here the interview. It implies that USSoccer rather than the US manager has authority over who is selected at least for managers other than Klinsmann who didn’t agree to taking the role unless he had total control of his roster which apparently Gulati gave him the second time around and got the deal done.

    I really wish our US soccer media such as Grant Wahl and others would ask the harder questions.

    The Chandler snub must be defended by Arena/Gulati in front of the press. I want to know Arena/Gulati’s reason for why Chandler was not on this roster, especially given Yedlin’s injury and lack of other depth at the position.

    • hasnt lost a game yet, bradley back in his best spot, pulisic breaking out

      haters gonna hate

      but yes u would think chandler deserved a chance. Perhaps chandler still has nightmares the last time he played against costa rica?

      • Other than Mexico in Azteca we haven’t played anyone yet where we weren’t supposed to win or draw.

        And yes, I will absolutely hate and throw shade at any US manager that fails to call in our best in form options at their respective positions. Calling in our top in form players at each position is what I call LOGIC though.

        I can’t believe readers are okay with Zusi potentially starting at RB for the US in a WC qualifier at home against Costa Rica when we have a RB who is in amazing form right now who has is an auto lock starter for his club team in the Bundesliga. The real argument is who is the starter when healthy Yedlin or Chandler. Zusi v Chandler is a joke and needs explanation by Bruce.

      • And Bradley, seriously his best “spot” is the bench if only we had better options. If Williams starts racking up EPL minutes he will force that arguement. Either way neither player is a true #6 anyway so we’re F—–d come WC either way.

      • Joe, I believe Zusi started against Costa Rica at the Gold Cup with essentially the same attacking roster they have for this match and performed good enough. Bradley played very well in that match as well keeping Bryan Ruiz under control.

    • It’s very simple. Qualify first, then establish a World Cup squad…. I guarantee some of these will not be on the WC squad if they qualify … Chandler is playing great, but still lacking outside of Europe and with the national team… Do you really want to test that in qualifying where the USA are not in comfortable shape yet in the standing? … If they qualify, he will most definitely get called in… Right now, just qualify… doesn’t have to be pretty… just get it done

  5. At home against Costa Rica this is how I’d start. Then depending on other results, our player’s health and or injuries and yellow cards you change things up in Honduras.
    Altidore Wood
    FJ Nagbe Pulisic
    Villafana Besler Cameron Zuzi

  6. It will be interesting to see what Arena does with the choices he has. Will he be dogmatic, or will he go with his best XI? I think the win against CR is crucial, so you have to think offensively. To me, that means you play Altidore, Wood, Pulisic and Dempsey all together, with 3 of them as forwards. Bradley over Acosta for defensive mid and Nagbe to be distributor. I think CR is too dangerous to go with 3 in the back, so you have a 4-3-3. So, if you want your best offensive 11, that means you put FJ at LB, then Zusi at RB with Besler and Cameron at CB. If Arena insists on putting FJ in the midfield, then Nagbe or Dempsey has to sit, since you have to play Altidore, Wood, Pulisic, and Bradley. The other issue is if you have Besler and Cameron as CB or go with Besler and Gonzalez at CB with Cameron at RB. I like the Zusi at RB option because Zusi played most of his career at midfield, so he’s better at joining the attack. The UIS has to be relentless in the attack for this game.

    • I think Zusi has shown he is capable and brings some decent offensive skills to the position, but what happens if he gets hurt or has a terrible game? Lichaj is the backup. Arena has chosen to leave off the roster, easily the best right back we have based on talent and club performence- Timmy Chandler. Doesn’t even bring him in to see him practice? One of the top right backs in the Bundesliga over the last 1.5 years. And don’t give me- oh his team mostly plays in 3-5-2 which him as wing back… Zusi is not even a real defender and only late in his career was put as a RB for the NATs. Chandler’s omission should be the most concerning for all fans.

      • I totally agree about Chandler, but at this point it’s irrelevant. The question is who do you play out of the players you have.

      • Chandler underperforms in comparison to his club level performances, and quite frankly, doesn’t seem all that interested in representing the United States.

    • If we are trying to get our 11 best on the field, then you have to start FJ at left back. But I don’t see a great lineup where you can have Jozy, Wood and Dempsey on the field together. If you play Dempsey as the attacking mid in a diamond, you’re leaving our midfield really exposed (and having to leave Nabe or Arriola off). I would start like this, and bring Dempsey in at 65 min for whoever is less effective of Jozy or Wood:

      Jozy – Wood

      Nagbe – Pulisic – Arriola


      Johnson – Besler – Cameron – Zusi


      • I think we will have Dempsey starting this game. Arena has made 3 points at home his biggest priority and we will look to press the advantage vs Costa Rica. Look for Jozy and Dempsey to start up top with Pulisic at the AM. Nagbe and FJ are best bets to play wide with MB holding.
        Arriola has a strong chance to start if FJ isn’t 90 mins fit.
        Honduras away will take a similar strategy to Panama away. Wood up top to harrass them and play for the counter. Probably an extra man (Acosta) in midfield and playing Pulisic out wide. Stay solid defensively and take 3 points if the chance presents itself. Much of this game’s strategy will hinge on the result of this CR matchup though.

    • The Gonzales-Besler pairing has been good for the US, there is a good relationship between the two and I do not think Arena will change that in this round. You always want Cameron on the field, he can play right back, Center back and even as a defensive midfielder. I too think Arena will put him in at RB.

      I expect that Arena will go with the usual suspects against Costa Rica, and a win against the Ticos will put the US and Arena in a position to make some changes for those players with yellow card accumulations, so we may see changes there.

      • I would prefer a backline of Johnson-Besler-Omar-Cameron, but I just don’t see Bruce moving our best defender out of his best position. I hope I’m wrong…

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