We all had a pretty good idea of what Bruce Arena was going to do with this U.S. Men’s National Team roster. No matter the situation, young stars like Weston McKennie and Jonathan Gonzalez weren’t going to come into the fold this late in qualifying. At this point, and with these games, Arena needed to rely on something a bit more familiar.
He did just that with his 26-man squad, one which was rapidly shifted to a 25-man squad due to a Gyasi Zardes injury. He went with experience, but that doesn’t mean Arena didn’t toss in one or two real surprises.
The biggest omission? Fabian Johnson, who played 78 largely healthy minutes for Borussia Monchengladbach over the weekend. The winger was part of camp last time out and looked fine over the weekend, making it unlikely he isn’t involved due to injury.
If it’s not injury, then what could it be? Johnson was far from effective last time out, a fact that is pretty much impossible to deny given how invisible he was against Costa Rica. However, there’s little doubt that, when fit, he’s one of the USMNT’s best 25 players. There aren’t 25 players in this pool better than Johnson no matter which way you spin it and his ability to play in several positions makes him an even bigger asset. Still, Johnson isn’t involved, meaning Arena has some sort of plan to form the team without him.
That plan could involve a three at the back, and you could see that being an option given the squad. There’s a wealth of centerback options, even without John Brooks healthy. Michael Orozco’s inlcusion may be a bit odd on the surface, especially with someone like Matt Miazga in good form, but the Club Tijuana defender has shown an ability to play as part of a three-man backline or as either a central defender or outside back in a normal four-at-the-back set.
The midfield also featured a pair of surprise names listed in Benny Feilhaber and Juan Agudelo. In the most likely scenario, neither will play meaningful roles in the coming games with players like Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta, Alejandro Bedoya and Darlington Nagbe all making up the central picture. Still, Feilhaber, in particular, could be an interesting super sub that has the ability to make plays in the final third.
In terms of wide options, Nagbe and Pulisic are both potential starters as well as is Paul Arriola if the team goes with a more typical formation. If Arena opts to go with a three, Arriola could be a potential wingback option with DeAndre Yedlin as a guaranteed starter.
The forward pool is straight-forward, for lack of a better word. We knew Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey would be involved and, even if many didn’t want to admit it, it’s far from surprising to see Chris Wondolowski as the fourth musketeer up top. Wondolowski may not be the exact player you want on the field starting two vital qualifiers, but he’s exactly the type of person you want in the locker room and on the practice field in the days to come. He’s seen plenty in a USMNT shirt and he’ll help keep things in perspective going into the two matches.
Overall, the USMNT roster is essentially as expected where it all matters. Aside from the Johnson exclusion, the big names are all involved. Now, it’s about putting those big names together in a way that earns the USMNT two big results and, ultimately, a spot in Russia come next summer.