31517_isi_cuts_usmntmj012917108 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
U.S. Men's National Team

Surprise Cuts, Returning Vets Flavor Arena's Roster

None of the players in the photo above made the roster—not Sacha Kljestan, not Benny Feilhaber, and not Steve Birnbaum. But Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard are all back in the fold. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 15, 2017
5:50 PM

THE ROSTER Bruce Arena unveiled today reflects his first involvement with the full United States men's national team, and as he has stated multiple times, it's now all about winning games.

After the poor start to the Hexagonal under former boss Jurgen Klinsmann, Arena inherited a role where there is little room for error. Because of this Arena named a very experienced squad bolstered by the return of three significant players. Clint Dempsey has been sidelined since September due to an irregular heartbeat but has resumed playing for Seattle. Geoff Cameron has been out with a knee injury since October but made his return for Stoke City earlier this month. Last weekend for Colorado Tim Howard played for the first time since suffering a knee injury against Mexico.

Dempsey's return is welcome news to a U.S. team that missed some of his grit while he was away. At this point, Dempsey might not start but his presence on the bench could provide an emotional lift. If the U.S. is at a point where it needs a goal, Dempsey is quite a weapon for Arena as a substitute.

Fullback issues are a concern

Since the qualifiers against Honduras and Panama come during an international break, and given the return of key injured players, this squad represents Arena's first-choice team—with a few notable exceptions.

DeAndre Yedlin is still out and is seeking a second opinion for what was initially labeled a hamstring injury. Last week Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez said the club was seeking a second opinion and it is now unsure how long the Seattle native would be out of action.

Nottingham Forest fullback Eric Lichaj was likely to be included on this roster but the Illinois native is also injured.

Timothy Chandler is suspended for the Honduras match on March 24 and Arena "didn’t think it was worth having Timmy travel from Europe" just for the Panama contest. 

Roster Versatility is key

So how will Arena cope without three natural fullbacks in Yedlin, Chandler, and Lichaj?

The only full-time fullbacks on Arena's 24-man squad are DaMarcus Beasley—who has dealt with injuries and lack of fitness in 2017—and Jorge Villafana, who is not earning any playing time with Santos Laguna. Neither are ideal choices. That could lead to Arena looking elsewhere.

Cameron could play right back. While the Massachusetts native prefers central defense and defensive midfield, he has right back experience for both Stoke City and the U.S. national team—albeit with mixed results. Arena likely does not see Cameron as a long-term right back option but since these two games are all that matters, Cameron could get the nod.

At left back, pay attention to Tim Ream. The St. Louis native and former New York Red Bull has had a strong season with Fulham and while he is almost always a central defender, he has experience at left back.

Fabian Johnson is listed as a midfielder and that is welcome news for national team fans who want to see perhaps the best American player at his natural position. Arena has said that he wants Johnson to shift to the midfield eventually. But is he sufficiently comfortable with the available left back options right now to move Johnson into the midfield? That might not be known until camp.

Meanwhile, Michael Orozco continues to earn call-ups under the new manager. A long-time Klinsmann favorite, Orozco is a particularly attractive option for Arena because he can provide cover at any number of backline positions.

January Camp winners

January camp was Arena’s first gathering since taking the job and four players helped their case to make this team: Sebastian Lletget, Dax McCarty, Walker Zimmerman, and Jorge Villafana.

In particular, Zimmerman beat out some impressive competition to make this team and could very well see important minutes. If Cameron gets the start at right back, for instance, who  would partner with Brooks? It could be Omar Gonzalez but the Brooks-Gonzalez pairing was a disaster in November against Costa Rica. Zimmerman could get his chance.

With Jermaine Jones suspended for the Honduras match, there are openings across the midfield and Lletget and McCarty could step in. 

Kljestan and Feilhaber both miss cut

The three names most expected to see on this roster who did not make the cut are Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber, and Matt Besler. When Arena first took the job, he cited the team’s need for better passing in the final third. In particular Feilhaber and Kljestan were considered options to fill that role.

After monitoring both players in January camp, Arena decided to go in another direction. These decisions speak volumes about Arena's feelings about Lletget, who may have surpassed both veterans. 

There are also some noteworthy omissions among European-based players. Danny Williams has been part of Reading’s promotional push and he could eventually find a role in the box-to-box role, but he will have to hope for a shot in this summer's Gold Cup.

The same goes for Emerson Hyndman, who is enjoying a great run in Glasgow with Rangers. It's easy to see Hyndman among the first group of young players to be integrated into this team if the Yanks dig themselves out of this Hexagonal hole.

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