Speculation over who Bruce Arena did or did not trust was calmed a bit on Wednesday as his 24-player roster for games against Honduras and Panama were released. The familiar faces are all here, and some popular dark horses made it into the roster as well. Unfortunately for many, there are still a few head-scratchers that made the roster, and a few that were left out. Here are some quick thoughts on the roster in general.
- Our Defensive Third Is (Mostly) Healthy: With the potential to miss out on three probable starters for the U.S. in the back, it’s a relief that, barring last-second injury, both Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron will be healthy and ready to play in the Hex. Cameron’s partnership with John Anthony Brooks coalesced into the strongest center back pairing the U.S. has had in years, at least since Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu manned the center of the defense. His return will bring stability and utility to the back line. Meanwhile, the U.S. almost always has an embarrassment of riches in goal, but Tim Howard came out of the gates strong against New York in his first action since November’s Mexico game, and he figures to start as well. DeAndre Yedlin will miss out, unfortunately, but 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, all things considered.
- Dallas Represents: Walker Zimmerman impressed in his time in January Camp and Kellyn Acosta has played outside of his skull to start the MLS and CONCACAF Champions League campaigns. I didn’t know if Arena would call them in, considering there are many other options with more experience, but he pulled the trigger on both. Even more excitingly, Arena made it clear in a Facebook Q&A that he sees Acosta primarily as a midfielder, and not an outside back. Thank god.
- The Forwards Are Hungry: This forward pool is deep. Like, Olympic diving pool deep. Jozy Altidore remains the only real hold-up target forward in the pool, and when he’s on, he is on (when he’s off, he’s off, but there’s enough depth here to compensate for that as well). Bobby Wood is playing well and getting goals for one of the worst teams in Germany, and is showing he knows how to play through adversity. Meanwhile, Jordan Morris still possesses game-breaking speed, and the second all-time leading scorer for the U.S. is back on the field and in the goals for the Seattle Sounders. I saw a few people questioning Clint’s inclusion in this team, but here’s the long and short of it: Clint missed half of the U.S. games last year, mostly due to injury, and still ended up tied for second-most goals. Even if you’re just bringing him off the bench, he’s someone you still want in your deck.
- Christian Pulisic: He’s here. Bruce is planning around him. Enough said.
- Left Back Still Looks Shaky: Jorge Villafaña was a big winner from January Camp, but he hasn’t been getting game time with Santos Laguna. Damarcus Beasley is still getting called in, and Tim Ream also can provide cover at the left back spot. I assume Villafaña is the most likely starter in this bunch, but with Fabian Johnson presumably pushed up to the midfield, can whoever is covering the U.S. left flank stand up to Hex play?
- 10 Is the Loneliest Number: Neither Sacha Kljestan nor Benny Feilhaber were included in this roster, which was a little bit of a shock to me. I thought at least one and possibly both would be here. That could be Arena telegraphing his moves a little bit: he hinted at a 4-4-2 or 4-1-3-2 set-up in his Facebook Q&A, which would call for a center midfielder that could take on more evenly-spaced duties between offense and defense. When asked if Pulisic could play in the middle, Arena agreed that he could, but also name-checked Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, and Alejandro Bedoya as people who could play a #10. None of these guys really play #10 as an attacking midfielder though, and play more box-to-box roles in their teams than Kljestan and Feilhaber. Arena could be planning on unleashing Pulisic as a #10, but if he runs a two-striker set, Kljestan and Feilhaber might be tactically superfluous anyway, explaining their absence.
- Michael Orozco Is the Ultimate Undead Zombie: The guy just won’t go away. I’m not sure how he manages to cling to every U.S. coach that comes along, but even if he’s defensive depth I would have rather seen...well, anyone, frankly. Maybe this roster looks different if guys like Yedlin or Eric Lichaj were fully fit and available for these matches, but here we are, with the guy who just did this to Chucky Lozano in Liga MX (WARNING: image is graphic).
Not great, Bob.
All in all, I’m optimistic about this roster and its chances of grabbing points against Honduras and Panama next week. There’ll be plenty to plan, discuss, and dissect when thinking about how Arena might line these guys up, but for now we’re left with our options wide open to us. I’m still confident this group can get the job done.
How do you feel about this roster? Who should be in and who should be out? Let us know in the comments section!