U.S. Men's National Team
25 Players We Expect for June World Cup Qualifiers
April 13, 2017
JUST TWO MONTHS FROM NOW the United States men's national team will assemble for a pair of World Cup qualifiers against—a home game against Trinidad & Tobago on June 8 followed by an Estadio Azteca clash with Mexico on June 11. Three points will be expected from these two game and anything beyond that would put the team in outstanding shape heading into the fall.
These games will also provide insights into Bruce Arena's thinking in terms of the player pool. January camp consisted almost entirely of MLS-based players—folks who were in their offseason and were available for a long stretch of time. Injuries and suspensions marred the two March friendlies so nobody could get a clear sense of Arena's pecking order during that window.
But these June qualifiers could be different. Foreign and domestic players should be in midseason form, and with the exception of Sebastian Lletget, all of the current national team players who were injured in March should be returning to action. As of now it looks like Arena will have most of his top-tier players available.
There are other issues to consider, certainly. Which players have seen their form drop off? Which players have boosted their chances? Also, which players might Arena be inclined to move past? Will Arena be affected by Jermaine Jones’ recent podcast appearance, in which he claims he receives unfair media treatment, adding that no one can have his spot on the national team?
It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out. In the meantime, here are 25 players I expect Arena to call in for these two matches.
In the Mix: David Bingham, Bill Hamid, Luis Robles, Zach Steffen
There does not appear to be much of a change in this position and the lack of a young prospect pushing through is a long-term problem for the national team. For now, though, Tim Howard is the top option and Brad Guzan is No. 2. Nick Rimando is the third choice although Arena might explore other options at the Gold Cup.
In the Mix: Tim Ream, Graham Zusi, Greg Garza, Steve Birnbaum, Jonathan Bornstein, Chad Marshall, Matt Miazga, Brad Evans, Matt Hedges, DaMarcus Beasley
Geoff Cameron got the start at right back against Honduras although that was due to an emergency. Graham Zusi got the nod against Panama and he struggled. It’s also worth noting that Zusi was only added to the roster as a late injury replacement. Right back at the moment looks to be DeAndre Yedlin’s spot to lose and Timothy Chandler will probably get a look.
The central defense pairing likely belongs to John Brooks and Cameron. I expect to see Omar Gonzalez and the surging Walker Zimmerman as the primary backups. In March Tim Ream earned the start against Panama while Matt Besler was added only as an injury replacement. But Ream’s form has dropped a bit for Fulham over the past month while Besler is improving at Sporting Kansas City. Both Besler and Ream provide emergency cover at left back too.
At left back, Jorge Villafana has seen his stock soar in recent months. The fact that he played 180 minutes in the last two World Cup qualifiers speaks volumes about the confidence Arena must have in him now. Behind Villafana things are a bit more open. Eric Lichaj was slated to be on the March roster until he was injured—although it is unclear at which position. The Illinois native is normally a right back but has played plenty of left back in his impressive career overseas. Besler and Ream can also play on the left while Fabian Johnson could once again shift to the backline where he was a regular under Klinsmann. Arena, however, seems keen on getting Johnson into the midfield—his regular spot for Borussia Monchengladbach.
In the Mix: Sacha Kljestan, Gyasi Zardes, Julian Green, Benny Feilhaber, Perry Kitchen, Alfredo Morales, Danny Williams, Emerson Hyndman, Cristian Roldan, Chris Pontius
Job No. 1 for Arena is to find a central midfield combination that works. Both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones struggled against Panama and it is unclear if that duo can will play well together.
Jones, now 35, sounded defiant on the aforementioned podcast about other players potentially taking his place. He is still a good player and while he can struggle at times, he does have good games left inside of him. What happens, however, if he goes to the bench? Jones does not seem to have the temperament to be a role player, and it's unclear if he would accept a lesser role on the team. The bottom line is Jones might be an all-or-nothing type of player who is either a starter or not on the squad.
If the roster is going to go over 23 players, Arena needs to include multiple options in in the central midfield. This is the least-settled aspect of the team and one in need of significant improvement from the Panama game. FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta is a safe bet to get a call after his very strong start to 2017. Meanwhile, Dax McCarty is a disciplined player who is mature, playing well for Chicago, and has been with Arena now quite a bit in 2017. If Arena needs to make a change in an upcoming qualifier, McCarty is not a bad option to have.
The rest of the midfield sort of writes itself. Fabian Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic are locks. Even though Arena seems to prefer the injured Lletget, Alejandro Beodya offers experience and is probably a bench option at the moment.
Finally, Paul Arriola was one of Arena’s first offensive substitutes off the bench against Panama. At this point, he probably sneaks in ahead of Julian Green for this spot. Green appeared to be in a good position earlier in the year at Stuttgart but he has faded in recent weeks and has not bolstered his case.
Two options to keep an eye on: Sacha Kljestan and Gyasi Zardes. Kljestan needs to play better for the New York Red Bulls and if he does he might get back in favor with Arena. Zardes was injured for the early part of 2017 but he is playing again for the Los Angeles Galaxy and Arena's ties to the Southern California native are deep and well documented.
In the Mix: Dom Dwyer, Chris Wondolowski, Juan Agudelo, Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd
The most settled position on the field—at least when everybody is healthy—is forward. Wood is playing dynamite soccer right now at Hamburg and Jozy Altidore is doing well for Toronto FC. Clint Dempsey is oozing with confidence after four goals in the March qualifiers and if he remains in good health Arena will certainly call him in. Jordan Morris is very dangerous when on his game, and his game-changing pace gives the U.S. attack another dimension.
Will newly minted American Dom Dwyer or Juan Agudelo push their way into the team? It is hard to see that at the moment although the Gold Cup could offer either (most likely Dwyer) a chance to build a case heading into the fall.
These are Brian's picks for the June qualifiers—what do you think? Share your take in the Comments section below.