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Projecting the USMNT September World Cup qualifying roster

Photo by Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports

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.


  1. The defense has me concerned….but IMO Chandler should be called in to challenge for a spot at outside back. His club performances are top notch….and he can’t be worse than Lichaj & Zusi were during the GC.
    In the Midfield I don’t get the love for McCarty. I have not been impressed with his play at the international level ever. His play in the GC should have proven that he is not up to this level of competition. Take a flyer on Williams….or bring in one of the young midfielders (Gooch, McKennie or Gonzalez). Not a fan of Zardes right now either….but Bruce will bring him.

    • Would I be wrong in thinking we play at least the CR match with a 3 back system, starting Ream, LCB; Gonzalez, CB; and Cameron, RCB. We had some success with it against Mexico in Azteca to counter the width of the Mexican 5-3-2, I believe CR uses a similar formation.

      • Three in the back seems to be envogue these days with many USMNT club teams playing that way. Stoke, TFC, Frankfort, and who else am I missing?
        Chandler at Frankfort does play more of a wingback and often very far forward.

      • Omar hasn’t played the last few weeks, I’m not sure even if he is fit enough to start that putting him in a 3 man backline where he would have more ground to cover would be a good idea. I guess we’ll see if he plays this weekend.

  2. Right now, Chandler is by far the best RB we have available.. and it’s not even close. So he has crapped the bed plenty for the Nats, well there’s a new coach. Maybe under a different coach he does better with his positioning, discipline, working with the CBs/MF in front of him… whatever.. If Bruce can get just a little more out of him then he should absolutely start vs Costa Rica.
    He’s struggled in the heat more than any of the other Euro based players, so play your #2 RB (Zusi,Lichaj,whoever) in game 2 in the daytime heat box..
    Despite his rocky history, he’s by far the best RB available.

  3. Why is Guzan a given? He’s had a poor run of form for the past year and his distribution is infuriating: constantly kicking the ball out of bounds or giving it away. Time to move on.

    • Why? Easy…because we fans/media/coaches are constantly thinking these are the same guys that were good/very good European players 4-8 years ago. Instead of evaluating current performance, it’s constant belief that these are the same performers that excelled in England and Italy over the last decade. Sorry, but Guzan/Bradley/Howard are not the same players. Until coaches/media understand that, we’re stuck.

      Then you’ll get the “it’s too close to a WC, not time to play around” excuses, like this is a club team where it matters that guys are playing together on a weekly basis, rather than a team that is together for a few weeks during the year.

      Bring in McKennie, Horvath, this kid starting every game in Mexico as an 18 year old…bring them in immediately, and get them on the field.

      We’re gonna qualify at this point, pretty easily most likely. Time to start figuring out who the next Yedlins are, rather than sticking with old guys in their 30s who are not the same as they once were.

      • Yes, because younger professional goalkeepers cannot organize a defense. You need to be well into your 30’s. No time to play around with all this youth, even if it’s currently more talented. They don’t have the organizational skillz!

  4. Unlike in 2006, 2010, and 2014, missing good players in important positions is not so much an issue (stars can likely not be replaced, but when injury means a big reduction in talent or experience as was the case then, the outcome for the team is in question).

    For instance, in 2006 LB was weak, Pope was past his prime and except for McBride the USA looked pretty toothless (Dempsey scored 1 goal). In 2010, Onyewu’s and Cherundolo’s injuries meant relying on pretty unproven backs and an aging Bocanegra while LB continued to be an issue. 2014 had fewer drop-offs in talent when one player was injured, so while I always found JK’s lineups surprising it was not so much of a drop in talent when he reshuffled.

    Arena now has decently solid replacements should anything happen to his perceived starters and even has the luxury of choosing players based on the opponent or the style of play he wants to impose.

    I know a lot of people like to demean Bradley, but every time he has been absent from the USMNT against a quality opponent, the USA looked the worse for it.

    Wondo, whom people on Ives love to hate on, is an outstanding player who has now scored 10 goals or more in each of the last 10 seasons and shows no signs of stopping, surely his age will catch up to him sooner or later, but for now, he is still scoring goals, presently one less than Dempsey the same as Altidore and more than Agudelo or Dwyer in the same league, you could do a whole lot worse than a guy who isn’t even projected to be on the roster!

    In the back, you can argue that Ream and Miazga are the most skilfull passers, the knock on each is that they are not perceived as tough or experienced enough. Could it be that people’s perception is that central backs need to be a bit thuggish (like Alexi was) to be successful.

    • Wondo like several great American goal scorers in MLS hasn’t been able to translate that league success into Nat success. Roy Lassiter, Anter Razov, Taylor Twellman, Jeff Cunnigham, Edson Buddle, Jason Kreis, Brian Ching, are all guys in the top 10 American scorers in MLS history and none of them had great nat careers. I believe Wondo has the most USMNT goals out of that group.

      Landon Donovan and Brian McBride are the only 2 Americans with more than 75 MLS goals and 15 USMNT Goals. (Dempsey will likely join the club before the end of the year.)

  5. Yedlin, Gonzo, and FJ are all back in training and are hopefully going to get a game in prior to the roster being named.

    Not sure how Chandler is not on the list. He’s pretty much automatic given his current club form (regardless of his previous NT form).

    Danny Williams is a potential call up, but not likely since Arena is comfortable with Dax and Kellyn. Also, Williams isn’t playing a ton of minutes right now. He may be a future pick up though, as he hopefully gets more minutes in the EPL.

    Lastly, I expect Horvath to be the last call up for GK, but it depends on if Arena leans more towards MLS players.

    • I think Hamid is the third choice atm…Horvath is still really young and needs more minutes in goal and i believe him staying with Brugge will do wonders for his development and consistency. Hamid was highly touted for years and played on his head for several bad DC United teams but injuries diminished a lot of the previous praise because he couldn’t stay healthy. He now seems to be healthy, is playing awesome and looked good in the GC too!

  6. With CP, Arriola, nagbe and Bedoya all being able to play out wide and even Morris if need be I don’t see a reason to bring in zardes. Call up a younger brighter player, I haven’t seen him play but Jonathan Gonzalez is getting some hype right now or Weston Mckinnie both young CMs that don’t have to play in these qualifiers but get integrated sooner than later. Yes I’m leaving roldan off because he didn’t look that good in gold cup I know it wasn’t a long look but still. Other than Acosta the CM is an aging group.

    • As much as I want to see McKennie get picked, I would rather he start getting some consistent playing time with Schalke than see him as an unused sub against CR or HON. Let’s pick up 6 points in these 2 games and make the October fixtures pretty much academic. Then we let McKennie debut. If we still are in a precarious position for the October fixtures, wait until the November friendlies for him to debut.

      • The qualifiers are within FIFA dates, so there is no league games. Calling Wes would be premature but the kid can play and has been playing each of the 2 games this season.

  7. Outside of Pulisic, Cameron, Dempsey, and Wood this group of players is all middling at best. Can’t wait for our next youth movement fast enough.

    • Exactly. Relying on essentially the same guys from the last decade. Howard/Guzan being guaranteed spots despite not being good anymore confuses me to no end, with MB in a similar position. But at least MB has an argument nobody is playing better than he is currently (though I would prefer Danny Williams, even Weston McKennie as he’s getting minutes in the Bundesliga), whereas numerous goalies are better than those two geriatrics.

      We’ll qualify for World Cup, Bruce will likely bring a supremely boring team (but he SAVED us from missing the WC!!!), we’ll exit in the group or 2nd round, and then we can turn our attention to dropping all of these guys outside CP, Cameron (soon), Wood, Brooks, Nagbe, and Yedlin.

      • I said earlier that Bruce is the ultimate pragmatist but i think he will suprise alot of people if we are able to qualify for Russia(which i think we will). What i mean by that is, i think he’ll start to call in the likes of Williams, McKinnie, Johnny Gonzalez and some others to get more athletic, technical and younger. If you dont think he’s been paying attention over the last several years to the NT under JK’s reign, or that he hasn’t learned lessons from his first time in charge you’d be mistaken. I think he understands the WC is best served having younger players that are versatile if you want to go far, but all the same these younger players i spoke of(and others Hyndman, Vickers, Wright etc) need to be playing consistently if they want to gbe considered going forward!

    • Yeah I am a little concerned that on player after player on that list it’s like, “didn’t he stink up the joint in Gold Cup?” Villafana in particular but also Guzan, McCarty, Bedoya, Zardes, Miazga. Forward is the only position where we have more talent than spots.

      I’d be a little concerned there aren’t many Pulisics coming down the pipeline anymore.

      • i watch Weston Mckennie’s highlight vid on youtube the other day. Granted most of the video is against reserves but what most stood out to me in the vid was how even though he plays the 6 position when he receives the ball off the CBs and is pressed he makes a touch and uses speed to dribble by the first player to put pressure on hiim. I haven’t seen Bradley try to dribble by a pressuring player in a long time, usually if no forward pass is available he immediately makes a backpass. He also makes some lovely thread the needle type passes into forwards and has a few nice long over the tops. Need to see more tackling if he’s going to play the 6 though.

        Not sold on him yet but I say if he keeps getting first team minutes with Shalke he needs to be brought into the senior MNT asap, we need the youth now.

  8. I certainly can’t argue with a group like that although Zusi gave me a few anxious moments during
    the Gold Cup Matches. I don’t know if I would necessarily start him, although he appeared to have a good match against Jamaica in the Final.

    • available and started for Huddersfield Town’s League Cup win the other day. i would rate him higher than Bedoya or Zardes.

      that said, team chemistry and in season form for a lot of these MLS players should be an advantage in the September international break

      • They don’t play the same position/roles. Broad sense: midfielders. Narrow sense: not each other’s replacement.

        The better argument would be that someone like the ineffective McCarty is worse than Williams. Someone who also plays defensive mid.

      • i doubt we ever see Bedoya at RM again, unless there are serious injury concerns, so if i’m right Danny Williams would absolutely be a replacement for Ale in that #8 role. DW is also capable of playing a #6 but i think we all agree his best position is as a box to box MF. Williams will probably need to earn more minutes with Huddersfield to be involved with the NT, although i think you bring him now, but Bruce is pragmatism at its best and he’ll be more inclined to go with guys he’s seen and knows well as of now to help us qualify. Realistically speaking, i don’t think we see any new players until we’ve qulaified and the pre WC friendlies are had!

  9. Brugge’s current efforts underline the sometimes illusory nature of trumpeting “European football.” If you’re not on a big club that may very well sit you, you may like Horvath exit the qualifying rounds of UEFACL and be potentially one more game from qualifying elimination in Europa having experienced two ties and a loss so far. Whoop. De. Do.

    It’s more important he’s playing.

      • Ranked 8th best in Europe ahead of Netherlands and Turkey.

        Produces far more star players Courtois, DeBruyne, Fellaini, Benteke, Lukaku, and Kompany all got their starts in Belgian A League and came through its youth academies.

        Kljestan hardly saw the field in his final season with Anderlecht, but immediately became an all-star upon his return to MLS. (I don’t really like that argument though because so much depends on who players are playing with and how they are used in a system.) You could also go back further to Onyewu who earned a transfer to AC Milan from his time in Belgian League, how many Americans from MLS have transferred to a bigger team, Howard anyone else?

  10. Zardes is really struggling at the moment, with out a goal on the season. Just not sure if you can continue to call him up. I’ve never thought wide midfield was is best position anyway.


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