Following this summer’s Gold Cup triumph, the U.S. Men’s National Team now looks ahead to World Cup qualifying, and Bruce Arena faces some decisions due to some injury issues.
The U.S. is set to face off against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 in the return of World Cup qualifying before visiting Honduras four days later. As things stand, the U.S. sits third in qualifying, three points behind Costa Rica and one point ahead of fourth-place Panama with four matches remaining.
It’s a solid but still slightly tenuous position, and the USMNT will have to navigate the upcoming matches without several stars. John Brooks is certain to miss out while DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson appear likely to join him on the sideline due to their own lingering injury issues.
With that in mind, Arena will have some reshuffling to do as a majority of his stars return following July’s Gold Cup win. Here’s a look at one potential 23-man squad you could see announced ahead of qualifying:
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Bill Hamid
Outlook: There’s little debate to be had on the first two spots. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are goalkeepers 1 and 1A heading towards the World Cup, and that certainly hasn’t changed. As things stand, Howard is likely the go-to starter, but Guzan’s recent play with Atlanta United definitely has him back in the mix.
The questions begin with the third goalkeeper spot, and the main contenders are Ethan Horvath and Bill Hamid. Horvath is in the midst of a European campaign with Club Brugge while Hamid has certainly faced his share of shots helping keep D.C. United afloat. Because of his efforts at the Gold Cup, we’ll give Hamid the edge, at least for now.
Missed the Cut – Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson
Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Tim Ream, Jorge Villafana, Graham Zusi
Outlook: If DeAndre Yedlin is healthy, this list looks slightly different. However, the fact of the matter is that Yedlin’s status is up in the air at best. If he’s not 100 percent, calling in Yedlin isn’t worth the risk. A less-than-fit Yedlin won’t help much against Costa Rica, and it would make more sense to leave him at Newcastle to re-integrate himself with the squad.
Fullback depth has long been a weakness, but there are some options. Jorge Villafana and Graham Zusi are safe bets at starting option. Eric Lichaj and Justin Morrow provide depth while Timmy Chandler could also be involved. However, Chandler has yet to be involved under Arena, and Morrow’s recent efforts with TFC likely give him a big boost this time around.
Centerback depth is lacking a bit without John Brooks, but you can pencil in Geoff Cameron as a starter. If Omar Gonzalez is fully fit, he’s a safe bet to be involved as well while Matt Besler and Tim Ream provide veteran presences and potential starters should the USMNT go three at the back at any point during the two-game stretch. If needed, Cameron could also do a job at right back, opening the door for a Gonzalez-Besler reunion.
Missed the Cut – DaMarcus Beasley, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Greg Garza, Matt Hedges, DeAndre Yedlin
Paul Arriola, Kellyn Acosta, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, Gyasi Zardes
Outlook: The midfield contains several stone cold locks. Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe are absolutely locked in while Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola are all but locked in. From there, veteran depth like Alejandro Bedoya and Dax McCarty are safe choices, even if there are several solid alternatives.
Sacha Kljestan has helped the Red Bulls’ recent resurgence, so he could be back in the picture. The same could be said for Cristian Roldan, who deserves a bigger chance than the one he received this summer The issue is that the central midfield picture is pretty straight-forward. The two would need to unseat Acosta, Bedoya or McCarty, and that trio’s skillset just fits better within this current group. Actosta has the upside, Bedoya has the experience and McCarty’s ability to come in and mop up is helpful in close CONCACAF matches.
Fabian Johnson’s recent injury issue muddles the winger pool a bit, though. Johnson is one of several clear-cut starters out of the lineup, but his absence opens the door for someone like Arriola or Gyasi Zardes to step in and help further their own case heading down the home stretch.
Missed the Cut – Joe Corona, Fabian Johnson, Sacha Kljestan, Cristian Roldan.
Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood.
Outlook: There are few debates to be had at the forward position when it comes to selecting the group, but there are debates on how you line them up. Is Clint Dempsey still the super sub? Does the U.S. go with one or two up top? Do they use Bobby Wood or Jordan Morris out wide to maximize the talent on the field?
For the foreseeable future, this foursome is the go-to group. Could it change if Dom Dwyer gets hot? Sure, but as of now, the Orlando City forward has yet to find his form with his new club.
The grouping of Altidore, Dempsey, Morris and Wood provide a unique blend of talents and experience levels, and expect Arena to ride that group heading towards Russia.
Missed the Cut – Juan Agudelo, Dom Dwyer, Chris Wondolowski.