March Qualifiers were full of question marks for the USMNT. How was Bruce Arena going to line his team up? Who would he pick? And was the team good enough to expect results against normally stingy teams in Honduras and Panama?
This time around, we know who Arena’s core players are, we have a better idea of the level of the team, and the stakes are clearly defined as well. The U.S. sit in fourth place, CONCACAF’s play-in qualification spot, and will play at home to Trinidad & Tobago before heading to the Azteca for a rematch against Mexico. The Trinidad & Tobago game is absolutely a must-win. If the U.S. can’t take the bottom team in the group at home, no matter how fast Joevin Jones and Kevin Molino are, they have no business qualifying for the World Cup. The more interesting game in this set is Mexico at the Azteca, where the U.S. managed a point in a scoreless draw in the last World Cup cycle. Another result in Mexico would be massive for the Americans’ hopes of finishing in one of the top 3 automatic qualifying spots. And who will Arena choose for this outing? Probably a roster very similar to his last one.
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
Hardly exciting, but I don’t think Arena turns away from this trio until someone gets an extended run in the Gold Cup and forces him to change it. The only one I’m unsure of here is Rimando, who finally looks like the years are catching up to his reflexes in MLS so far this season. But with Bill Hamid lacking consistency, William Yarborough seeming to be nowhere near Arena’s radar yet, and David Bingham’s form absolutely diving off the deep end, Rimando keeps the third keeper spot for these ones simply by virtue of Arena trusting him. If you’re looking for a dark horse to swoop in and take that spot away from him, my money’s on Ethan Horvath after he finally made his professional debut in Belgium.
John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, Jorge Villafaña, Eric Lichaj, Omar Gonzalez, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Ream, Timmy Chandler
First off: all praises be to the American soccer gods that Yedlin and Lichaj are both healthy, because that back line against Panama is not going the distance at the Azteca. Second: keep praying fervently to said soccer gods that John Brooks will be fully fit. He returned from injury in Hertha’s season finale but was subbed off at halftime in a game were Bayer Leverkusen brutalized the Berliners defense. Omar Gonzalez isn’t consistent in a U.S. uniform but he’s also one of the most decorated U.S. club players ever, and he will be here. Finally, after watching Graham Zusi get toasted, rolled, and smoked like North Carolina tobacco in Panama, I think it’s time we admitted that even if we’re perpetually unsure of Timmy Chandler’s performance at the international level, it can’t be worse than that.
Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Kellyn Acosta, Darlington Nagbe, Alejandro Bedoya, Dax McCarty, Paul Arriola
Fabian Johnson is another player coming out of the injury woods at just the right time, and his experience will be much appreciated in the midfield. Michael Bradley is here because he is always here. Christian Pulisic and Kellyn Acosta because duh. I think Nagbe and Bedoya both get call-ups for this round as well, even if their roles might diminish a bit with Johnson’s return. Dax McCarty seems like a no-brainer for Arena given his call-ups in the last camp and Jermaine Jones’s absence (!) due to injury (not so !). It will be interesting to see whether Arena trusts the capabilities of Acosta and McCarty enough to be Michael Bradley’s central midfield cover, or if he feels like he needs to call in a Danny Williams-type player. Finally, I picked Paul Arriola, because I love Paul Arriola. That’s not a great strategy for picking a roster, but it’s done now.
Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris
Keep it stupid, simple. The only question mark here is how healthy Bobby Wood actually is. His coach at Hamburg has said he’s been playing on painkillers for a while now, which is not a good sign. If Wood isn’t ready to go, Juan Agudelo has as many goals as Jozy on the MLS season despite missing a few games due to injury, and one always has to wonder if and when Arena brings Gyasi Zardes back into the squad.