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‘No secrets’ to what lies ahead for experienced USMNT squad

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.”


  1. Saw Mckennie play this weekend and I thought he was okay, but not any better than okay. For his age, starting in the Bundesliga is an excellent accomplishment, but he’s not showing nearly as well as Pulisic did early on. So, to call for him to play in the qualifiers is just stupid. I think ex-Schalke player J Jones would contribute more than now Schalke man Mckennie. I’m not happy with some of Arena’s choices, but I’m guess his starting 11 and what mine would be won’t diverge too much. My choices, across the back, Villafana, Besler, Cameron, Yedlin. Midfield Bradley, Pulisic, Nagbe, up front Altidore, Woods, Dempsey. I fear that Arena will play a 4-4-2 when I think we need to play offensively and go 4-3-3. That means he will keep Dempsey on the bench until the 70th minute or so. So, he will probably put in Acosta or maybe Feilhaber in midfield instead of Dempsey up top.

    • glad you said this first, cause i worry that i’m too critical of our young players.

      first of all, i think comparing mckennie to pulisic is a mistake, because it’s pretty unrealistic to expect any of our other kids to have the immediate impact that pulisic has. that said, i don’t think mckennie’s been all that great. he looks like what he is: a raw talent that has a lot of potential. schalke seems to rate him highly, so that speaks well for him, but the usmnt is not schalke (for better or worse).

      i still don’t have a problem with him getting called up, but i think it’d be a mistake to start him for these quals. we don’t need him to win these games, and that’s a bit too much unnecessary pressure for a guy in his first game.

  2. Thia US team is full of good MLS players and a few good EPL and Bundesliga players. That should be enough to handle Panama and T&T.

    Is this the team for the USA in Russia? No, but it is the team that will get us there. At least assuming the defense plays like it can, not like it did in thel ast couple games.

  3. This roster is plenty good enough to win both matches. However, it was good enough to win the last two as well. It showed it was good enough to gain a draw in Azteca and to win the GC. The question is, is the manager good enough to put them in the right positions to win with the right tactics.

    The downfall of this cycle was when Klinsmann backed out of his plan to clinch the Confed birth in the 2013 GC. By bringing in an almost first team squad (minus the CB pairing of the future) he threw out his plan reorganize the squad. Injuries to Gyau, Gatt, Garza, AJ, and Boyd didn’t help either. That team lost, cost Alvarado his starting spot at C.America because he missed training camp, cost Chandler almost half a season of playing time at Frankfurt and still left us with a must win that October. JK doubled down with the experience group for the Concacaf Cup and lost out. At that point, he felt the pressure and was stuck with the new plan of ride the veterans through qualifying. With little to no help from the 24-27 age group it was either play the 30 year olds or the 18 year olds with no experience. With no pts through two rounds of the hex Arena had no choice but to continue the failing plan. The hex had gone exactly to Arena’s plan until the team laid an egg against Costa Rica. The veteran coach got cocky and thought it was wrapped up. Now again he has no choice, you can start McKennie in a qualifying match as his first cap or Wright or Horvath.

    • My problem with the roster isn’t the starters it’s the depth is to old, need to have energy and pace come on late against tired legs the dax’s and Wondo’s and others can’t bring that and they don’t even play to begin with so why not add younger players.

  4. Arena values culture over form. This team really needs to blood the youths. McKennie, J. Gonzales…both of these guys are in-form and getting it done at higher levels than mls. They need to be on the field with Pulisic with enough time to develop chemistry with him over the next year. They are starters, imo. The old hats aren’t getting it done. They need competition.

    Same goes for the forward pool…its stale right now. Time to bring in some up and comers for a look to see who can compete for minutes. Haji Wright, etc.

    As it is currently constituted, the team just is not good enough.

    • Preach brother! Yes, it’s not the time to introduce younger, better players with all the pressure on the line! Sure, we are in this position because of all that important EXPERIENCE, but…but…

      The entire “experience” requirement is just such a simple, tired rationale, brought to us by the soccer media which, for some unknown reason, cannot question US soccer leadership or its manager.

      This roster is an absolute disgrace.


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